Chess and the Acolytes Waiting for Trump's Downfall

Advisors playing for positions of power Reuters

In a recent Time magazine article, attorney general for Washington state and internationally ranked chess player, Bob Ferguson, described President Donald Trump's tendency to govern by executive order as equivalent to "The King's Gambit". The King's gambit is the most aggressive opening move a player can deploy in a chess match. Ferguson recounts that it was used with some success in the past, before chess masters calculated that they could beat back the audacious, risky move, which was based on little to no planning or forethought, with a careful strategy which "capitalize(d) on the weaknesses created by the aggressive opening".

Trump's political demeanor is one of a chess neophyte whose only strategy is the King's gambit. It accounts for the chaos of his administration, the failure to bring together Congress in the numbers and spirit necessary to enact his agenda. He is circling the drain, lashing out in desperation against those who oppose him, those who keep his actions in check and those who seek his downfall.

As Trump becomes increasingly inchoate, players and pieces wait patiently in the wings to advance their own interests. Some are ostensibly on his side but are prepared to maneuver themselves into positions of power, while maintaining the flexibility required to distance themselves from his legacy. Others, more closely associated with his rise to power are likely to be unceremoniously removed from the game as the dust settles.

The mastermind of Trump's rise to power, Steve Bannon, was widely expected to play a significant role in the policy direction of the administration. In a series of photos posted by a Rabbi visiting the White House, Bannon's "to-do" list was shown on a board behind the smiling men. The list included a number of items far outside the more moderate conservative agenda of the Republican Party, such as "building a wall and making Mexico pay" and a series of measures intended to hamper immigration by both refugees and foreign workers seeking employment in the United States.

Bannon was so quickly sidelined is a result of his nationalist, protectionist, white supremacist, tunnel vision. Like the Rook in chess, he ploughs back and forth in one direction only, keeping attention on his narrow, nationalistic agenda. Bannon once described himself as "virulently anti-establishment" and his lack of intellectual and ideological flexibility limits his efficacy and sets him directly in opposition with the more powerful Mitch McConnell.

Paul Ryan is charged with the task of dragging a disparate republican caucus into order around a divisive agenda. Time and again, as with his first first failed attempt to ram through a repeal of Obamacare, he is dragged ether to the right by the demands of the ultra-right freedom caucus, or to the left by moderate members of the Tuesday group. As he gets ready to move, McConnell snatches the solution away. This was obvious during the recent negotiations to keep the government funded through September, 2017. McConnell sat down with Chuck Schumer and, in the angered estimation of rights conservatives, gave the democrats concessions on almost all of their priorities.

At present, Vice President Pence moves in all directions in service of his king. Pence acts as wise counsel in policy matters, a conduit between Trump and a press that deplore him, interpreting, "what he meant to say was…" and, the only silver lining for Congressional republicans who wait with swords drawn to move in around their new leader should the time come. The game will proceed to its conclusion very differently in this case with the growing realization that, unlike the sometimes-penultimate move in a game of chess, this queen has no intention of sacrificing himself for his king.

Should the king President be replaced mid-game, the strategy of the White House will change dramatically. There will be no King's gambit, no reckless moves that openly test the rule of law. The remains of the day will be the unelected, designated survivor of the post-Trump fall out zone. Pence will be surrounded by familiar faces who have been playing the game cautiously too.

It is likely that McConnell and Ryan will rally around their new leader and revel in the chance to enact a truly conservative agenda and that the republicans will be temporarily more united in the absence of the force that divides them. The hand that moves the pieces currently, with his laughably enormous list of responsibilities, Jared Kushner, will be long gone and the pawns - Spicer, Priebus, Conway and Bannon - will be sacrificed with their king. America may breathe a sigh of relief as the chaotic match plays out to a more stable beat.

The real test of how well the Republicans can weather the storm will come during the 2018 midterms, when American voters can vote to restart the match.