Donald Trump’s first staff appointments say a lot about the direction that his Presidency will take.

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Reince Priebus (right) has been appointed as the new White House Chief of Staff, whilst Stephen Bannon (left) has been appointed Chief Strategist. 

Yesterday, President-elect Donald J. Trump announced his first staff appointments since his election victory, appointing Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, and appointing Stephen Bannon as his Chief Strategist. These two were both thought to be strongly in the running for a position in the Trump administration and therefore their appointment is not much of a surprise, however, that Trump chose them to fulfil these roles does suggest a fair bit about the direction that his Presidency will take.

Throughout the election campaign, Trump spoke of his disdain for Washington insiders, and pledged that he would ‘drain the swamp’ of special interests and D.C. insiders. However, the appointment of Reince Priebus to such a key position flies straight in the face of this. Priebus is arguably the ultimate Washington (or at least GOP) insider. He has been chair of the RNC since 2011, and previously was RNC general counsel and chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, with his work for the GOP in Wisconsin meaning he has strong connections with the likes of Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Given Trump’s rhetoric around ‘draining the swamp’ of political insiders, you would have thought that the selection of Priebus to such a key role would have provoked anger amongst some of Trump’s most keen supporters — and you would be correct. However, the selection of Priebus could well have done a fair amount the placate those parts of the GOP who are extremely wary about the prospect of a Trump Presidency, given the extreme rhetoric that characterised his campaign. The feeling amongst moderate Republicans may well be that Priebus will add some moderation into Trump’s thinking, whilst his excellent relationships with Congressional leadership should help the Trump administration get their legislation through Congress — as long as it isn’t too extreme that is. Some have likened his role to that of Andy Card who served as White House Chief of Staff for five years during the George W. Bush administration.

Whilst he will have disappointed some of his most keen supporters with the hiring of party insider Priebus as Chief of Staff, Trump then hired the opposite for the role of Chief Strategist: Steve Bannon. Bannon is the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, the conservative news website, which aligns with the extreme ‘alt-right’ in much of its coverage. The appointment of Bannon is likely to worry much of the Republican establishment as he is an avowed enemy of Paul Ryan, and has led a campaign through Breitbart to unseat him as Speaker of the House. In addition, and very worryingly, he has long been criticised for pandering to white supremacism and the ‘alt-right’.

Media coverage of Bannon’s appointment has variously described him as being along the lines of a ‘right-wing provocateur’, and ‘anti-establishment populist’. Whilst these descriptions are both true, they don’t go far enough by any means. Following news of the appointment, John Weaver tweeted, “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.” Weaver is an experienced Republican strategist who held key roles on John Kasich campaign for the Presidency, and on John McCain’s campaigns in 2000 and 2008, so not simply a diehard liberal with a trivial complaint — Bannon genuinely is an extreme right-winger. This is why his appointment to Trump’s White House team has got people so worried.

Many people (in particular many Republicans) have brushed off the appointment of Bannon, and suggested that as Priebus technically holds the number one role on the White House staff, Bannon won’t hold much influence over policy. However, this is likely to be wrong. To go back to the comparison of Priebus with Andy Card, at the same time that Card was Chief of Staff, Karl Rove served as ‘Senior Advisor to the President’. This role was effectively the same as the Chief Strategist role which Bannon now fills. Everyone knows that although Card served as Bush’s gatekeeper, it was Karl Rove who had significantly more influence on the policy direction of the Bush administration. Although the appointment of Priebus and Bannon was accompanied by a description of the two as ‘equals’, don’t be surprised if Bannon has considerably more influence on policy direction than Priebus, with Priebus included more for his links with Congressional Republicans (which can help get Trump’s policy through Congress) than anything else.

Ultimately, the appointment of both Priebus and Bannon looks to be an attempt by Trump to straddle the divide between the Republican establishment and the populist wave which took him into the White House. This balancing act was evident this weekend as Trump alternated between tweeting about the constructive conversations that he’d had with GOP elders like John Kasich and Mitt Romney, and railing against the election coverage of the New York Times.

What side of the dividing line his policy will fall on is perhaps more uncertain.

However, the fact that he has chosen to appoint Bannon to a White House position at all, suggests that despite the more moderate notes which he has been trying to hit in recent days, Trump intends to pursue at least some of the right-wing populist policies which took him into the White House, perhaps even some of the most extreme ones. The appointment of Bannon should worry everyone, the world over.

Will the re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server affect the outcome of the election?


Just a quick post on the relevance, or rather irrelevance, of the news that the FBI has re-opened their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Reports have suggested that these new emails have come to light through a separate investigation into former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Wiener, the estranged husband of Clinton’s closest confidante Huma Abedin, is being investigated for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a fifteen year old girl in North Carolina. It has been said that the emails found by the FBI belonged to Huma Abedin, and were found backed up on Wiener’s computer. There have been conflicting reports over the quantity of emails found, but the FBI have made clear that they have yet to examine any of them, and it seems clear that any examination won’t be complete until after the conclusion of the presidential election.

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, said that the FBI was taking steps to “determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” For Clinton and her team, the timing of this finding (just eleven days before the election), as well as the lack of clarity in Comey’s statement must be extremely frustrating. As expected, Donald Trump seized upon the news, and at a rally in New Hampshire said, “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.” On the face of it, its hard to see how this news could be anything but bad for Clinton’s White House ambitions. Subsequent changes in the financial markets and betting markets, suggesting that Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency had been dented by this news.

However, I’m not so sure about this.

On 5 July, the results of the FBI investigation (which has now been reopened) were revealed. This found that Hillary Clinton had not broken the law by using a private email server, but that she had been ‘careless’. Given that the FBI were unable to find any evidence of illegal activity at this stage, it is hard to see how the result would be any different this time around. Indeed, given that the FBI clearly performed such a forensic investigation into Clinton’s emails, it seems unlikely that these ‘new’ emails will tell them anything that they do not already know.

As for harming her election chances, the timing is awkward. Just eleven days out from the election, Clinton and her campaign team are having to field questions on emails rather than doing any actual campaigning. This is obviously not ideal. However, whether this latest release will convince voters that Hillary Clinton is corrupt is another matter entirely.

Surely this is an issue which people have made their minds up about by now? They’d probably even made their minds up about it prior to 5 July. If you’re a Trump supporter (or a Republican) you tend to think Clinton is corrupt, if you’re a Democrat you think she’s not corrupt. As for undecided voters, they’re in all probability sick and tired of hearing about emails. Although this new batch of emails will solidify the views of those who already think Clinton is corrupt, I would be surprised if they persuade anyone who doesn’t already hold those views. In short, I don’t think they’ll have much of an impact on the election.

And yes, I think most people can agree that Clinton acted carelessly in her use of a private email server. But, she didn’t do anything illegal, so what’s the big deal? When it comes to Trump and US cyber security, this is someone who has encouraged the Russian hacking of the emails of US citizens. On this issue, Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Coming back to the new emails, when it comes to Clinton’s emails, voters have already made up their minds. These new findings aren’t going to change that, and therefore they aren’t going to change the outcome of the election.

What to expect from the Vice-Presidential debate.

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Tonight, the first and only Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will take place, at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.

Typically, there is minimal media attention directed toward the Vice-Presidential debate in an election campaign. This is because the Vice-Presidential debate rarely influences the result of the election in the same way as the Presidential Debates proper do. However, tonight’s debate still matters, and could potentially be important to the eventual outcome of the campaign.

Usually, the point of the Vice-Presidential debate is to test the competence of each Vice-Presidential nominee in case of a situation arising where said nominee is forced to deputise (or take over from) the sitting President. This means that the Vice-Presidential debate is usually a thorough discussion of the record of each candidate, and their competency for the job in hand.

However, this won’t be the case this time around.

This Presidential campaign has been dominated by the records of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and the suitability of each of these candidates for the White House. Expect, this Vice-Presidential debate to be completely dominated by discussion of the competency of Trump and Clinton. Effectively Pence and Kaine will simply be acting as surrogates for their running mates, and answering questions on their behalf.

For Kaine this will mean going after Trump’s temperament and looking to hammer home the message that Clinton looked to push during the first Presidential Debate — that Trump doesn’t have the temperament required for the Oval Office. Given the week that Trump has had, Kaine will certainly have plenty of readily available material to use to criticise Trump.

Pence, on the other hand, will look to push the Trump line that Clinton will not be able to create the change in Washington that Trump can, and that she is simply a member of the political establishment. With Clinton having won the first debate, but not scored anything close to a knockout blow, Kaine’s performance could be very important.

For Pence, he needs to be able to show stability in the Trump campaign. Although Clinton won the debate, it wasn’t a thrashing by any means. However, Trump then spent the rest of the week making things very difficult for himself. He re-ignited a feud with a former Miss Universe winner, which involved him tweeting abuse in the early hours of Friday morning. There was then an investigation by The New York Times which suggested that Trump had been able to avoid income tax for almost twenty years, he failed to respond to this. Finally, he faced renewed question about the status of his charitable foundation, which he failed to answer satisfactorily. None of these did him any favours in terms of his goal of appearing Presidential. Pence needs to put in a solid, measured performance in order to try and put out the fire Trump has lit for himself.

Both Kaine and Pence are known for being mind-mannered, and so it will be interesting to see how they rise to the task of strongly criticising their opponent’s campaign. For Pence, the task is perhaps hardest. He has already been called into action throughout the campaign to defend Trump, but with the week Trump has had, this could prove very difficult. His only option could be to go on the attack.

What could be interesting is whether the debate boils down to a discussion on social issues. This was something which wasn’t covered in the first Presidential Debate, in part because they aren’t a key part of either Trump or Clinton’s pitch to become President. However, Pence is a social-conservative and has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. On the other hand, Kaine has been a strong proponent for the abolition of the death penalty, and is generally socially liberal.

Overall, this Vice-Presidential debate could be an interesting one. With Pence facing the task of getting back on message, and negating the impact of some of Trump’s recent indiscretions; and Kaine attempting to hammer home these indiscretions, it could make for compelling viewing. On the other hand, with neither candidate known for their exciting oratory, it could be very dull. Who knows!