The “looming shake-up” scoops have been dribbling out for nearly two weeks, but now that Trump’s trip is almost over, it’s time to start paying attention. At least three different outlets have published stories in the past two days about the White House getting organized to manage the Russiagate probe and push forward on promoting Trump’s agenda. Yesterday Axios reported that Team Trump is “prepping for a years-long war with investigators and the bureaucracy, with plans to beef up legal, surrogate, communications and rapid-response teams.” Today Reuters confirmed that, describing the initiative as a new “war room.” Now here’s the WSJ hinting that big changes are coming to the West Wing involving lawyers, a reshuffle of the comms team, and who knows what else. Given the reference to the “deep state” and the prevalence of war/fight rhetoric in the quotes given to Axios (“We’re getting street fighters ready to go”) plus the fact that they ran a softball piece today on Steve Bannon returning to prominence in Trump’s inner circle, I’m guessing that the “war room” stuff is mainly coming from Bannon and his allies.
The most alarming detail, per the Journal: A team of lawyers may start reviewing Trump’s tweets before he sends them to make sure he doesn’t brain-fart his way into any new legally damaging revelations, like the possibility of audio recordings of his Oval Office chats with Jim Comey. Let’s hope Trump spikes that idea. Political blogging would become 85 percent less fun overnight.
One major change under consideration would vet the president’s social media posts through a team of lawyers, who would decide if any needed to be adjusted or curtailed. The idea, said one of Mr. Trump’s advisers, is to create a system so that tweets “don’t go from the president’s mind out to the universe.”…
Trump aides have long attempted to rein in his tweeting, and some saw any type of legal vetting as difficult to implement. “I would be shocked if he would agree to that,” said Barry Bennett, a former Trump campaign aide…
Other changes under discussion include removing communications director Mike Dubke and installing Sarah Sanders as the main spokesman instead of Mr. Spicer. Another consideration is scaling back on daily press briefings.
Bannon, Kushner, and Priebus will all be involved in the new “strategic messaging operation,” according to Reuters, although Trump alumni like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie may return too. The Axios piece makes it sound like the point of the “war room” is to push back on the Russiagate investigation and intelligence leaks, but that’s not the sense I get from the other two stories. Maybe it’s being sold that way because Bannon understands that right-wingers will relish the idea of Trump fighting back against his antagonists. But he’s also smart enough to know that attacking Bob Mueller and Comey is self-defeating, since the White House’s defensiveness only feeds suspicions that they have something to hide. Taking the most contentious possible attitude towards the probe doesn’t convince people outside his base that he’s innocent. On the contrary.
The point of the “war room,” I think, is to focus on non-Russiagate stuff like an infrastructure bill and, more importantly, to bring in people who can help manage Trump himself. That’s why Lewandowski and Bossie are in the mix: “The most important thing is Trump listens to them,” said one official to the Journal, “and it will free up the rest of the White House to focus on health care, taxes and the things we should be worrying about.” Bringing in lawyers to vet his tweets, or at least to try, is part of that too. It sounds like a full-court press to get Trump to stop shooting himself in the foot by idly riffing about Obama “tapping his phones” or whispering to the FBI director to go soft on Mike Flynn, etc etc, and to stay on message. If Lewandowski and Bossie and Marc Kasowitz and other people whom Trump trusts can get him to be more disciplined, the White House can hopefully ignore most of the Russiagate developments and focus on getting things passed that he can run on in 2020.
Imagine — Corey Lewandowski, political disciplinarian. Good lord.
Anyway, it won’t work completely because Trump is and always will be a loose cannon. But if they can reduce the amount of self-sabotage they can improve things for him and bring Republicans in Congress back onside. Ryan and McConnell are worried about the lack of legislative accomplishments too. The safer they feel lining up with Trump before the midterms, the easier things will be.