Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington
The pace of appointments to Donald Trump’s incoming administration picked up toward the end of the week. And attention focused, understandably, on the hardline profile of the figures the president-elect is now choosing for his governing team. But given what we’ve learned about Trump’s management style — and how, in his orbit, proximity confers influence — the staff-level hires he made last weekend may prove more consequential. Then, Trump announced that Reince Priebus, the subdued apparatchik who chairs the Republican Party, will serve as chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, the reclusive strategist with deep ties to the alt-right, will serve as chief counselor. Or, as NBC labeled them, respectively, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. The idea is that two men, both steps from the Oval Office, will advocate for two distinct crowds, with Priebus minding the Republican establishment while Bannon keeps faith with the nationalist movement that helped fuel Trump’s rise. The nicknames originally belonged to a pair of speechwriters on Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, though it reversed their meanings: within that operation, Pat Buchanan earned the Mr. Inside handle by writing combative speeches that appealed narrowly to the base; Raymond Price came to be known as Mr. Outside for his soaring rhetoric with mass appeal.
In Nixon’s campaign, the schizophrenic effect of two such divergent voices writing for one candidate predicted a dynamic that was arguably his undoing in office. The split itself was evident well before he got there. In the closing weeks of the race, Nixon’s running mate, then-Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew, embodied the angry voice, at one point inviting hecklers at a speech to “renounce your citizenship” and declaring once Republicans won, that crowd would “dry up and disappear.” But when Nixon was interrupted three days later, he said he was “delighted to hear these differences.” On Election Night, Nixon was once again in a magnanimous mood. Channeling Price, he appeared on television to declare his administration’s guiding aim would be to “bring the American people together.” That came as a relief to a public wary of what it had seen on the trail. “To a remarkable degree Nixon was a political unknown on the day he was elected to office,” Jonathan Schell wrote in the New Yorker in 1975. “During the campaign, he had drawn back from many of his old positions while putting forward few new ones, so that his campaign was a process of erasure more than of disclosure.”
Nixon and Trump are obviously very different men operating in very different eras. For one, Nixon, a practiced pol, ran as a healer who could bring peace and calm after years of domestic strife over the Vietnam War; Trump, a novice candidate, triumphed by embracing the politics of division. But they both won by coopting the cause of the party they displaced — for Nixon, ending the war, and for Trump, tackling economic inequality. And both made grand promises without explaining how they’d achieve them. In Nixon’s case, by secretly escalating a war the public believed he was winding down, he cultivated an atmosphere of paranoia within his administration. Months into his term, he ordered the first warrantless wiretaps, of his own staff and some reporters, to try discover the source of a leak about his Cambodian bombing campaign. And before the end of his first year in office, Nixon all but abandoned reconciliation, framing his opposition at home as a threat to the Constitutional order and calling on the “silent majority” to support him. Trump has a jump on him there — his team explicitly referenced that same silent majority during the campaign to explain how he’d win. Now that he has, Trump faces intense pressure to deliver. Doing so will require reaching out beyond his circle of loyalists. But if Priebus aims to be a moderating force within the West Wing, Trump’s subsequent hires so far signal Bannon has the upper hand.