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Is The Trump Presidency Having a Crisis Moment?


We've been talking about the news of the week and the fallout in the Trump administration as a result. He was criticized heavily all week for his both-sides comments in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Today, the president did come out with positive tweets of support to the counterprotesters who showed up to face a free speech rally, saying, quote, "I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate."

Still, the daily breaking news, staffing surprises, off-script speeches have some questioning how effective he can be as America's top leader. We're joined now by Rich Lowry, who recently wrote about this. He's the editor of the National Review, and he's been an outspoken critic of President Trump. We reached him in New York.

Welcome, Rich.

RICH LOWRY: Hi, how are you doing?

BROWN: Doing well. Earlier this week, you wrote that the White House is at a turning point of sorts with the president squarely aligning himself with the right-wing publication Breitbart News, which has fueled the growth of the alt-right in America. Now, White House strategist and former Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon leaves the White House to return to Breitbart. First, do you welcome his dismissal?

LOWRY: I think it's a mixed bag. There are issues where I'm with him and think he had a good influence on the president, for instance, on immigration. There are others where I'm not, especially trade and foreign policy. If - you know, if it were six months ago, I might say this is part of a momentous development in the fight for President Trump's soul. But it's meaningful, but I don't think that significant now that we have a clear picture of what's going on.

The sensibility of Donald Trump was not Steve Bannon's creation. It goes back to Donald Trump. The chaos in the White House was not because Steve Bannon was running things. In fact, by the end, all indications are he had very little influence - it's because Donald Trump is president.

BROWN: Interestingly enough, the president said, today, that Bannon will be a tough and smart voice back at Breitbart. Bannon says he's going to war for the president. What do you think this will mean in the coming weeks and months?

LOWRY: Well, his definition of war for the president will mean waging war on the advisers within the White House who he doesn't like - the so-called New York Democrats, the kids - Jared and Ivanka - the Goldman Sachs bankers who've come on board since the election, Gary Cohn. And they will get excoriated and smeared daily at Breitbart. And I think that's what he's talking about and - when he says going to war for the president.

BROWN: Well, we've seen more Republicans, who supported Trump, question the president. Here's Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, speaking to local reporters at a rotary club in Chattanooga.


BOB CORKER: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

BROWN: First, Rich, do you agree with this assessment? And secondly, what impact does it have for members of the president's party to openly raise questions like that?

LOWRY: Yeah. Well, obviously, so far, it has not been going well. And the ultimate responsibility for that is Donald Trump himself and his management style and his character. And I think what Corker's voicing there is what pretty much every Republican on Capitol Hill thinks privately. They might even think worse than that. But I think it's unlikely we're going to see any fundamental breach between Capitol Hill and Trump until at least next year.

I think the Republicans still want to pass the agenda, if they can. They still want to try to revive their health care bill. They still want to pass some sort of tax bill. And they need the president broadly onboard, and they need him to sign it. So I think that will be a glue that keeps both sides together, even though you see the tensions now flaring up much more publicly on both sides.

BROWN: Rich, I have one last question. Do you think the president still has firm support from his base?

LOWRY: I think he does. And I think the base, one, still has a kind of a generous view of the president today. They think when he says things, like he did after Charlottesville, that appall a lot of people, they sort of think, well, he's just speaking loosely and imprecisely. And they think there are a lot of people - this - and I think this is correct - who really want to undermine his presidency and would like to see him ousted from office.

So they react very strongly against that, and then also just react very strongly against his enemies. And any time the president has a press conference where reporters are standing up and bringing questions at him, most core Republican voters are going to tend to side with the president almost whatever he (inaudible).

BROWN: That's Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, a conservative magazine. Thanks for talking with us.

LOWRY: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.