Feb 12, 2017

Confrontation vs conformists in the White House

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A big reason the first three weeks of the Trump presidency have been such a rollercoaster: the intense, daily competition between two very different world views in the West Wing — those who want radical confrontation at home and abroad, versus those who want to conform better to Washington and international norms.

Hence, the wild swings from confrontation over a "One China" policy to total accommodation, or a full-court fight over extreme vetting to growing momentum to simply fix it.

The confrontationalists — Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, et al. — do not underestimate how much sway they have with Trump, even when they recede from the headlines for a few days. There is a reason Miller is on four Sunday shows defending the executive order, even though many of his colleagues feel he gives the administration too dogmatic and inflexible of a face.

The confrontationalists elected Trump and earned his loyalty, and often capture the president's "tough guy" impulse, especially on tough talk overseas or tough action on immigration.

The conformists -- Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, economic adviser Gary Cohn, General Mattis, Secretary Tillerson -- would simply call themselves the realists. They think needless confrontation is killing the president's standing overseas and on Capitol Hill. This group is not as tight with each other, so its collective imprint waxes and wanes.

But Jared and Ivanka will outlast everyone. Many Republicans think the two will recognize the damage to Trump's brand and their own -- and help engineer a return to a more conventional West Wing.

What to watch for: Trump is often torn between the world views — and hates being the bad guy, or the laughingstock. Whoever can help Trump find middle ground will rise quickly.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 710,918 — Total deaths: 33,551 — Total recoveries: 148,900.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 135,499 — Total deaths: 2,381 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

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