There aren’t many institutions in Washington and beyond championing the president’s nationalistic policies. But there are plenty trying to pull his agenda in a more traditional Republican direction.
By RONALD BROWNSTEIN / The Atlantic / April 16, 2017
But Trump’s tumultuous first months in office have shown with equal clarity that such an agenda has extremely little institutional support inside the GOP beyond a constellation of sympathetic media outlets (like Breitbart News) and talk-radio and cable-television hosts (such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity). Lacking many champions in Congress, think tanks, conservative interest groups, or the business community, many of the movement’s most distinctive ideas—say, confronting China over trade or protecting the mostly white older population from budget cuts—have been rapidly losing ground to more conventional GOP interests and priorities.
“Within the Republican Party, there is not a lot of institutional support for what we understood to be Trumpism during the campaign,” said Peter Wehner, a frequent Trump critic who ran the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives for George W. Bush. “It was so idiosyncratic to him. You didn’t have people running around saying they were Trump Republicans like [there were] a couple of generations ago saying they were Reagan Republicans.”
This broader struggle over the direction of the administration and the party has inevitably been personalized into a tale of personal intrigue between Stephen Bannon, Trump’s rumpled senior strategist and leading proponent of a racially tinged economic nationalism, and Jared Kushner, the president’s silky son-in-law who has emerged as a rallying point for more traditional GOP voices skeptical of that agenda.
Defining this sort of tension as a battle between competing advisers “for the president’s soul” is a familiar Washington construct. During the Ronald Reagan administration, the debate over its direction was often reduced to a conflict between supposed “pragmatists,” led by chief of staff James Baker, and “movement conservatives” revolving around White House counselor Ed Meese. In Bill Clinton’s first years, the White House was seen as divided between “New Democrats,” like policy and political advisers Bruce Reed and Rahm Emanuel, and more traditional liberals aligned with congressional Democrats, like adviser George Stephanopoulos.