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Tale of two Trumps plays out in first appointments

In the process of answering the question as to what sort of president Donald Trump will be, his two first administration appointments offer an initial answer.

As a political newcomer, Mr Trump has promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington, ridding the capital of political cronyism and corruption, and taking a fresh approach to governing, with a new coterie of people.

Yet he has also suggested that he will fill his cabinet with some established Republican names, and that he is open to compromise when it comes to implementing some of his most extreme campaign promises and his approaches to governing.

With his appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist, and Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, Mr Trump shows for now he will attempt to straddle both roads — attempting to reassure financial markets and establishment conservatives who worry whether Mr Trump is ready for the presidency, while still appealing to the base who helped him win the White House in the first place.

Mr Bannon served as Mr Trump’s campaign chairman and the executive chairman of the conservative news site Breitbart News, while Mr Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and was a key ally of Mr Trump during the final months of his campaign.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker and a member of Mr Trump’s transition team, said on Twitter that Mr Priebus and Mr Bannon would be a “good team” with Mr Bannon in charge of “key strategies” and Mr Priebus in charge of “daily management”.

Kellyanne Conway, Mr Trump’s campaign manager, also praised both men.

“We are very grateful in the Trump world to both Bannon and Priebus. And I think you’ll see them continue to work together,” she said in an interview on Sunday with Meet The Press, ahead of the official announcement.

“Steve Bannon in this particular campaign was the general. And he is much more the Goldman Sachs managing partner and much more the naval officer, I think, than people realise,” she said.

The two job appointments will probably set the tone for which direction Mr Trump takes with the rest of his cabinet — or in this case, which two directions. Instead of populating his cabinet exclusively with Washington veterans or with fringe outsiders, he will probably populate it with both.

Mr Bannon, a former naval officer and alumnus of Goldman Sachs, was appointed Mr Trump’s campaign chairman just 82 days before the election after Mr Trump’s two former campaign heads resigned amid scandal. Though he only helped run the campaign for three months, Mr Bannon, along with Ms Conway, are largely credited with keeping Mr Trump on message through to the finish line.

At Breitbart, Mr Bannon helped foster an anti-establishment narrative, long before Mr Trump’s candidacy. But he has also been accused of allowing the website to pander to white supremacists and members of the alt-right, making him less appealing to mainstream Republicans who favour Mr Priebus, a low key, Wisconsin native who worked tirelessly for Mr Trump behind the scenes but has largely stayed out of controversy and the limelight.

While some Republicans might “breathe a sigh of relief” with Mr Priebus’s appointment, others might be worried about Mr Bannon’s continued role in the administration and what that might mean about Mr Trump’s future relationship to the alt-right, said Dennis Goldford, a political-science professor at Iowa’s Drake University.

“Trump’s campaign has unleashed the hounds,” Mr Goldford said. “The question is whether he will leash them back.”

In the days since his election, Mr Trump appears to be wrestling with competing impulses to both act more presidential, and tone down the rhetoric that dominated his campaign, while simultaneously hitting out at foes in a similar no-holds-bars manner that he did during the general election and primary.

On Sunday, for instance, Mr Trump gushed on Twitter about the constructive and respectful calls he had with former critics including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and John Kasich, only a few minutes after railing against the New York Times for its coverage of him.

Trump’s campaign has unleashed the hounds. The question is whether he will leash them back

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia politics expert, said it remained to be seen which of the two Mr Trumps won out. But he noted that there was something in the Republican president-elect that recalled a 1968 Richard Nixon.

“Nixon was very flexible. There is a bit of Nixon in Trump. He’s inclined to be pragmatic if given the opportunity,” Mr Sabato noted.

Now the question would be whether Mr Trump took the pragmatic route and appointed some more of the “mainstream” choices that had been floated for his cabinet — or if he went for the fringe candidates instead.

“Clearly we are going to be looking at the number of unusual people he picks versus mainstream conservatives,” Mr Sabato said.

Via FT