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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump to Bannon: You're Fired
      •  Democrats Are Preparing to Run Against Pence in 2020
      •  Icahn Says "I Can't"
      •  Manchin Not Interested in Cabinet Post
      •  Charities Flee Mar-a-Lago
      •  Gorsuch Speech Raises Eyebrows

Trump to Bannon: You're Fired

Well, not really. Although President Donald Trump excelled at firing people on television, in real life he is afraid to actually do it. When somebody has to go, he always gets someone else to do the dirty work. So it was on Friday, when Steve Bannon exited the White House stage right, with Chief of Staff John Kelly doing the honors. Bannon actually submitted his "resignation" on Aug. 7, but everyone waited until Friday to make it public. This marks the third Friday in the last six that a high-profile White House staffer got whacked. It's almost like the administration would prefer that the weekend news cycle—which includes the Sunday morning talk shows—be focused on staffing issues, and not on things like Russiagate and Charlottesville.

Although Bannon played a key role in getting Trump elected, and Trump understood that he had far more insight into Trump's base than the president himself did, Bannon's ouster was foreordained long ago. First son-in-law Jared Kushner never liked him. NSA Herbert McMaster despised him. Kelly, a disciplined four-star Marine general, thought he was a loose cannon. Bannon is a nationalist with a history of anti-Semitism and he loved to attack the top two economic globalists in the administration, Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, both of whom are Jewish Democrats. Many Republicans in Congress hated Bannon as well and while they don't count much in this White House, they do count a little bit. Add it up, and Bannon just had too many enemies in high places to survive.

Another thing that contributed to his downfall is that Bannon often took credit for things Trump wanted to take credit for. He sometimes acted like he was the president's equal, and Trump knows no one is his equal. Trump was also incensed at Joshua Green's book, not because it depicts Trump in a bad light, but because Bannon occupies the same amount of space on the cover as Trump:

Devil's bargain

Bannon had two close allies in the West Wing: Steve Miller and Sebastian Gorka. They are just as unpopular with the rest of the staff as Bannon was, and far less powerful. It might be wise for them to spend some time working on their resumes. Indeed, White House insiders are telling reporters, off the record, that the decision to ax Gorka has already been made.

What happens next in the White House? It's hard to know, but with a Marine Corps general in charge of the staff now, and no more bomb throwers in the White House, there may be smoother sailing ahead and fewer leaks. Another obvious change is that Bannon was a nationalist and hated the Republican Party and its views on free trade. Now there is no one in the White House espousing that kind of viewpoint. Since Trump famously follows the advice of the last person he talked to, on economic policy it's going to be Cohn or Mnuchin, so Trump may be much more in step with traditional Republican ideas going forward. That could help his relationship with Congress.

It may be tempting to conclude that, with Bannon gone, the kowtowing to Nazis and white nationalists and anti-Semites will subside. However, the evidence really doesn't support that conclusion. Remember, Bannon was a dead man walking as of August 7, well before the Charlottesville mess. The assumption has been that Trump was following Bannon's lead regarding Charlottesville, but surely that can't be true. Certainly the Donald wasn't going to a man who had already been sacked for advice on what to do. Further, the resignation letter that the President already had in his pocket offered him a perfect way out of the mess he created for himself last week. In his Monday remarks—the one time Trump actually criticized the racists—the President could have thrown Bannon right under the bus. He could have said something like, "I recognize that it's important to let people know where I stand, and to make sure everyone knows that I abhor white nationalists, and that my entire administration does, too. Consistent with that goal, I have decided that there is no longer a place for Steve Bannon in my administration, and have accepted his resignation." This would have made it seem as if Trump means business on this subject, and would have changed the conversation. But Trump didn't do this, because he doesn't want to stand firmly against white supremacists. He wants the racists' votes and, unlike a George W. Bush or a Richard Nixon, he's not shrewd enough to be able to talk to them via dog whistles. There does not appear to be anything about this dynamic that is likely to change with Bannon gone. In fact, it's possible that Trump's behavior could get even more erratic, as he growing more and more isolated, and that is when he tends to lash out the most aggressively.

It also remains the case that this is a White House in turmoil. This picture has been making the rounds today:

You're all fired

We are just past the 200-day mark, and all of the most important members of Trump's administration on the day he took office are gone. And, of course, that's not the only carnage—it's to the point that on Twitter, people are joking that Bannon lasted 21 Scaramuccis. This really is like we are watching a season of Trump's former (and future?) show "The Apprentice." Incidentally, for those who might be wondering, Trump cannot fire Vice President Mike Pence. Pence was duly elected by the Electoral College, just as Trump was, and can be removed only by Congress. Pence can resign, of course, and Trump could theoretically pressure him to do so. This is essentially what happened with Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. However, Pence has plans to take over from Trump, either by being elected, or by succeeding to the presidency upon a resignation or an impeachment and conviction. So, Pence isn't going anywhere. We know he's not an important cog in the Trump machine anyhow, so the odds are that the President mostly ignores his Veep for however long they're both in office.

Meanwhile, what happens next with Bannon? He is a multimillionaire, so he could buy a really big yacht and spend the rest of his days cruising around the South Pacific, margaritas in hand. But that's not his style. In fact, he has already announced a return to Breitbart News. Bannon's plan, in his own words:

If there's any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I'm leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents—on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.

This certainly makes it seem like Bannon will still be a member of Team Trump, except instead of being an insider, he'll lead the propaganda arm of the administration. It's not surprising that everyone's playing nice right now, since Bannon doesn't want to alienate his readers who still love Trump, and Trump wants to keep as much of the Brietbart crowd in his corner as he can. However, it is improbable that the "partnership" can really last long-term. First, there is no question that Bannon's "war" is going to be targeted at the White House staffers he doesn't like, including McMaster, Kelly, Mnuchin, and a host of others. Attacking them is, by extension, an attack on Trump, and eventually the President will be forced to take sides (and may also get angry and blow his top). Further, Bannon's curious interview with a left-wing publication this week, in which he was so frank and so critical of the administration that he had to claim he did not know he was being interviewed, certainly looks like an early shot across the bow given what we now know.

And even if Bannon himself has no hard feelings about his ouster (highly unlikely), it doesn't mean that others in the Breitbart crowd feel the same way. Already, senior editor Joel Pollak has penned a blistering piece for the site in which he predicts that his newly-reinstated boss' firing marks, "the beginning of the end for the Trump administration, the moment Donald Trump became [a Republican in name only like] Arnold Schwarzenegger." (Editorial note: If you put the two of them next to each other wearing only skimpy bathing suits, it's easy to tell them apart.)

Another Breitbart staffer seconded the basic sentiment, and said the publication would now go to war with the "Democrat White House." A third said: "Steve's allies in the populist nationalist movement are ready to ride to the gates of hell with him against the West Wing Democrats and globalists like Dina Powell, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn and H. R. McMaster." Bannon also has a few staunch supporters in the halls of Congress, like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), who told Trump last week not to fire his senior adviser. If you thought Meadows was a pain in the past, just wait and see what he does now.

With any other president, we could be confident that he had thought through the pros and cons of a big decision, and was prepared for the consequences that he knew would come from whatever path he chose. That may be true with Trump, and it may not be, it's very hard to be sure with him. But whether he fully realizes it or not, Trump took a big gamble in ridding himself of his right-hand man on Friday. Lyndon Johnson famously kept FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI although he despised Hoover because, as he put it: "I want Hoover inside the tent pissing out, not outside the tent pissing in." Trump will soon have some data about whether Johnson was right. (Z & V)

Democrats Are Preparing to Run Against Pence in 2020

Vice President Mike Pence has sworn up and down—no hold that, he doesn't swear, so make that "averred"—that he is not running for president in 2020. Democrats don't believe a word of it, so they are already preparing to run against him. A Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, is already starting to do oppo research on Pence. One line of attack will be to tie him to Trump, so they are collecting documents and videos where Pence praises Trump. These will be especially valuable if Trump ends up disgraced.

With Charlottesville still fresh in everyone's minds, the group is also looking at Pence's record as governor of Indiana, especially how he dealt with white supremacist groups and hate crimes there. The group has sent people to Indiana to start sniffing around to dig up dirt on Pence. Since Pence has an image of being squeaky clean, anything they can dig up that shows his behavior doesn't live up to his image may make him look like a hypocrite. (V)

Icahn Says "I Can't"

Billionaire investor and Trump friend Carl Icahn was appointed early in the President's term as a special adviser on regulatory reform. This has generated a lot of criticism from ethics watchdogs and Democrats, as the appointment made Icahn a White House insider at the same time he was still running his businesses. Some see that as a wee bit of a conflict of interest. Those individuals no longer have to worry, however, as Icahn resigned on Friday.

Icahn did not make clear what it was that prompted his departure. Given all the other CEOs who jumped ship this week, perhaps he was also angry about Charlottesvillegate. Or, given that he resigned shortly after Steve Bannon's departure was announced, maybe he was upset by that. Or maybe he was getting tired of being picked on by critics. Could be any or all of the above, though if he wanted to make a point about racism/Bannon/his enemies with his resignation, he presumably would have said something specific. The likeliest explanation is that Icahn realized that serving as an adviser to Trump, or on one his advisory councils (if any of them are left), is pretty much a waste of time. The President doesn't often listen to advice, nor does he appear to be able to get much done, legislatively. For a busy man like Icahn, there is little benefit in hitting your head against a brick wall for the next three years. (Z)

Manchin Not Interested in Cabinet Post

Reportedly, the White House was discussing a plan to move Sec. of Energy Rick Perry over to the Dept. of Homeland Security, and then to appoint Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to take over the Dept. of Energy. Hard to know how serious such talk was, but in any case the point is moot because Manchin made clear he's not interested.

Even if the Senator was intrigued by the general notion of leaving the Senate and taking over a cabinet position, there was very little chance that he would have accepted an offer from Trump, for three reasons. The first is that he knows Trump's interest is not in having Manchin be part of the team, it's in stealing a Senate seat from the Democrats, since Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV) would pick Manchin's replacement, and would certainly choose a Republican (maybe himself).

The second is that even Trump's closest friends and allies are at risk of running afoul of him and having their heads roll (see Bannon, Steve). An outsider in whom Trump has little investment or interest? He might not last the year, and he would almost certainly be blamed when the coal industry does not magically come roaring back to life, as Trump promised it would during the campaign.

The third is that unlike Rick Perry, who thought that the job of energy secretary entailed traveling around the world trying to sell American oil, Manchin surely knows that promoting oil and coal is not really part of the secretary's job description. The real job is managing the Atomic Energy Commission, which stores and mantains America's enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons. Manchin is certainly smart enough to know that he has more influence on coal policy as a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources than in a cabinet job overseeing nuclear weapons.

So, it's back to the drawing board for Team Trump, as it gets harder and harder to fill the hundreds of Senate-confirmed jobs that remain vacant. (Z)

Charities Flee Mar-a-Lago

Quite a few charities were planning to have gala fundraisers at Donald Trump's club Mar-a-Lago (and would have paid dearly for the honor, as nothing is free when you're dealing with the Trump Organization). Now, however, many of these charities are running screaming into the night. This week, eight of them have canceled, including the International Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, and the Susan G. Komen foundation.

All of this is due, of course, to Trump's handling of Charlottesville, and to the resulting pressure that donors put on the various charities to move their events elsewhere. One wonders, however, why they chose Mar-a-Lago in the first place. Long before this week, Trump was a pu**y grabber who mocked handicapped people, denigrated women, encouraged violence among his followers, fanned the flames of Islamophobia, and pandered to white nationalists. We don't really know anything today that we didn't know a month ago or six months ago. Given the obvious potential for Trump to become a lightning rod for controversy and criticism, the prudent decision would seem to have been to steer clear of Mar-a-Lago entirely. One wonders if the supporters of the various charities will take note that the leadership made a pretty clear statement about their priorities when they made the booking, and that canceling only when faced with intense public pressure does not change that fact. (Z)

Gorsuch Speech Raises Eyebrows

Newly-seated associate justice Neil Gorsuch already has a full slate of extracurricular activities. One of those, a speech he's set to deliver next month to a conservative political organization, is raising a lot of questions. Not about the speech, or who he's speaking to, but instead about the venue: Donald Trump's swanky new Washington, D.C. hotel.

Ethics experts are divided on the propriety of the decision by Gorsuch to accept the invitation. On one hand, it is not likely he is trying to curry favor with the President by staying at his hotel, since a person with a lifetime appointment no longer has a need to curry favor. On the other hand, Gorsuch will start ruling on cases involving Trump just weeks after the speech is delivered, and to many the optics of that are just not good. "It's a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending," said Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode. "It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest."

Some SCOTUS justices bend over backwards to avoid the mere appearance of impropriety. Clearly, Gorsuch is not one of those. There would be no issue, of course, if The Donald divested himself of all his assets, as do most presidents. But Trump, as we know, is not one of those. Such is the state of ethics in Washington these days. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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