President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement received a similar reaction to his travel ban: International scorn, widespread protests and condemnations from groups and business executives who often stay quiet.
To Matt Ames, though, it was a reason to celebrate — and he is helping plan a rally near the White House to celebrate Trump on Saturday.
"The thinking is there is very strong sentiment within the party in favor of the president’s decision yesterday on Paris Accord," Ames, the chairman of the Fairfax County, Virginia Republican Party. "We want to go make some noise and tell him how much we appreciate it. There seemed to be a tug-of-war, and it didn’t appear it was going to happen."
Withdrawal from the accord, like the travel ban, was spearheaded internally by Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist. But White House officials, advisers and others close to the president say Bannon’s job of convincing Trump is easier because the president has a natural tendency to take the same path as him — and that while Bannon peeved the president for his behavior in the West Wing, Trump has never left him ideologically.
While the president often crows about Gary Cohn’s success at Goldman Sachs, and may talk to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, more than anyone, Trump often gravitates towards the Bannon modus. Bannon supporters note enthusiastically that the so-called moderates in the West Wing don’t have much luck getting their way.
It is less about his friendship with Bannon — who didn’t respond to a request for comment — or his personal opinion of him on any given day, advisers and aides say. The combative chief strategist has repeatedly told Trump his base is solid, that liberals will never love him, the large crowds voted for him for a reason — and that he will be rewarded for keeping campaign promises. He reminds him of his populist credo and the large crowds at rallies.
Bannon has reminded other White House aides that the travel ban is far more popular "than the media will ever say," according to one person who has spoken to him. He has teamed up with Trump in criticizing the news media.
In interviews with Trump supporters and Republicans across the country, the Paris climate agreement news looked far differently than it did in Washington, a fact that Bannon reminded the president of, according to a senior White House aide.
Jenny Beth Martin, the head of the Tea Party Patriots, enthusiastically supported the move. She said her group viewed leaving the Paris agreement as a “part of a larger ‘make America great Again’ platform that necessitates putting America first.”
And Trump supporters said backing for the move was widespread outside of Washington.
"I was in the Midwest yesterday, in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan," said Ken Blackwell, who headed domestic policy on Trump’s transition. "It played very well. It was exceptionally Trumpian. It was a very good day for him."
Among Democrats and some Republicans, the move was short-sighted and horrific. Only Nicaragua and Syria are not in the climate accord. The United States allies could see a damaging signal on how serious climate change is. It gives other countries — like China — the ability to lead over the United States. And some see Bannon as he is portrayed on Saturday Night Live: the "Grim Reaper" ruining the United States.
"It’s sending the planet spiraling in an awful direction," said Bill Burton, a former Obama aide. "You’re killing off innovation and you’re saying in a time of crisis, we need to lean on other countries."
To Trump, it was a message to send to the rest of the world that the United States would not be held to terms he doesn’t like in international deals. And it was a good way to heap scorn on climate change — which is proven by science but a flash-point among Republicans — while talking about creating new jobs for blue-collar workers.
"Pittsburgh, not Paris — he couldn’t have said it better," Ames, the Virginia Republican, said. "That line really really resonated with a lot of people."
Burton, the Democratic strategist, said Trump’s move works for him "from a brand perspective" because it’s about sticking it to the establishment. He also said Democrats may struggle to tie the move to everyday Americans — and he believed it would ultimately could prove less consequential than other decisions.
"But at some point, you have to find ways to put points on the board that appeal past your core base. He has shown himself completely inept at doing that so far," he said. "If you keep doing things that are broadly unpopular, it weighs on you."
After the travel ban, Bannon told others he relished seeing the protests on TV. Bannon has told friends he "doesn’t give a shit about" the Grim Reaper portrayal on Saturday Night Live, in the words of one person who has spoken to him.
More protests are likely to come tomorrow when Trump’s supporters line up outside the White House for a campaign-style rally.
The president, however, did not enjoy the protests last time. And he may be watching TV, too.