Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said that President Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities.
“The way the progressive left runs, is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation in an agency,” Bannon continued. “That’s all going to be deconstructed and I think that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”
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President Trump’s critics have noted that at least some of his Cabinet picks seem uniquely unsuited to their roles. Scott Pruitt, recently confirmed as head of the EPA, had previously challenged its regulations in more than a dozen suits. Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, operated a company that depended on low wages and faced allegations of labor abuse. Puzder’s nomination was scuttled by the discovery that he had employed at least one undocumented immigrant.
Trump’s FCC chairman and energy secretary have also been critics of the very agencies they’re now tasked with managing. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, famously called to eliminate the department while running for President in 2011.
Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations—George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine.
What’s remarkable here, though, is Bannon’s framing of these moves as more anti-state than pro-business. The CPAC comments about ‘deconstruction’ are a toned-down version of startling statements made last August to the Daily Beast. Bannon impishly declared himself a “Leninist,” saying that the Soviet leader “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
It’s not a stretch to see Bannon’s comments reflected not only in Trump’s cabinet picks, but in his slow progress in filling hundreds of lower-level cabinet positions. Until they're filled, those positions are staffed by temporary administrators with reduced power, leaving enforcement and other matters in limbo.
Unpredictability has been baked into Trump's campaign since the beginning. Almost a year ago Trump spoke with the Washington Post on foreign policy, stating "I always say we have to be unpredictable....predictable is bad." While some now see destructive chaos in the White House, Trump recently boasted that "the White House is running so smoothly" at his rally in Melbourne, Florida. Bannon's comments suggest that chaos may, in fact, be part of the Trump administration's agenda.