Trump needs a brain trust

A certain Steve Bannon — perhaps you’ve heard of him — was supposed to help Trump figure all this out, perhaps with an assist from Michael Anton, the once-pseudonymous pro-Trump essayist now ensconced in the National Security Council. But there’s little evidence that either man’s policy vision has advanced much beyond, “The conservative movement has failed, let’s try something else.” Bannon seems to have been particularly useless during the health care negotiations, encouraging Trump to work with the Freedom Caucus one day and trying to bully them the next, while throwing out various critiques of the Paul Ryan bill that didn’t point toward anything coherent.

It was probably unreasonable to expect a sixtysomething whose life experience is all in media and Hollywood to suddenly turn into a one-man think tank, no matter how many French far-right agitators he name-drops. But a think tank is basically what Trump needs: a small brain trust committed to figuring out what parts of the mainstream G.O.P. vision he should support and what heterodoxies it makes sense for him to champion, so that he isn’t stuck governing on the Heritage Foundation’s austerity budgets while his friends outside the administration urge him to expand Medicaid.

Some Trump supporters — the folks behind the new journal American Affairs, most notably — are trying to play that role already. But they’re getting going slowly; Trump needs something sooner, faster, now. He needs, in effect, a think tank inside the White House: a small group, separate from the process-oriented Domestic Policy Council, whose only task is to brief the president regularly on how Trumpist premises should shape any given legislative deal.