Argument of the Week: Bannon Planned the Hamilton Fiasco

From time to time—ideally weekly—I will highlight an especially bad argument I saw made by the press or political class. Recipients need not collect their award in person, but rather take a sabbatical from public life in general.

In the aftermath of the Hamilton Stars in Much Ado About Nothing, variants of an argument suggesting that Bannon or Kushner planned the spectacle. At first glance it seems possible—it did bury the Trump University story. But the more you consider it, the more it should strike you as incorrect:

  • It was a poor cover-up: Trump also tweeted at length about how he would have won the suit. That was actually a major news story during the day.
  • The settlement, for different reasons, would have been a low news item: News outlets in the US are somewhat ham-stringed in reporting on settlements. While it makes sense to read them as admissions of guilt, most specify that they are literally the opposite and that no one involved may suggest otherwise. So while the press can imply it, they cannot say this proves his guilt. The lack of a juicy angle would have suffocated the story without an elaborate scheme from Bannon or Kushner.
  • These are Hamilton Tickets: Pence probably did not buy them last minute; Bannon probably could not have “sent” Pence and his family all that easily.
  • Bannon would have been hard pressed to predict what the Hamilton cast would say, if anything: It seems obvious in retrospect that the Hamilton cast would have said something, but this was a bit unusual. That’s part of the controversy. As far as gambles go, there are better ones.
  • Trump’s Twitter Meltdown about Hamilton was in fact newsworthy: Whether or not you think it should have been covered as much—see above—the president threw a temper tantrum about his VP getting criticized. A day of arguing if the president-elect was respecting norms of criticism was not a win.
  • Related to that, it was a bad way to distract: Many articles actually put the Hamilton Twitter Meltdown in context of the Trump University Meltdown. Bannon is an editor; he would have seen this coming.
  • It endows Bannon with more foresight than people have: If you’ve ever sat through an ad that was “designed” to go viral, you know how hard it is to design viral content. Breitbart and other outlets use a pretty simple formula for getting pieces to go viral: look at what worked, do it a lot, and let the law of large numbers send a fraction of them viral. Bannon would have been hard pressed to guess in advance that this would take off.
  • The disorganization: Pence ended up contradicting the master plan when he said the booing was what freedom sounded like. Or maybe that was part of the plan all along? Or maybe it backfired? Doesn’t this all just seem like Donald Trump throwing another tantrum?

As a pilot episode of a new political drama, I’m in. The power behind the throne orchestrates a convoluted scandal to make another scandal disappear. Watching the pieces fall into place, seeing them explained by our anti-hero as he sips whisky, and then he compares himself to Satan. House of Cards, move over!

But life is not House of Cards. Bannon almost certainly found out about this when a staffer called him to say Donald was tweeting again. He said his favorite four letter word. You know what? He might have considered that this could mask some of the fallout from Trump University. But then he set to work putting out the new fire.

This is a flimsy conspiracy theory filled with holes.

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