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Trump's White House purge isn't about policy — it's about marketing

What's worrying isn't that Donald Trump is now getting advice about public policy from fanatics such as John Bolton and Lawrence Kudlow. Mr. Trump has never cared about public policy.

The real worry is that with special counsel Robert Mueller breathing down President Trump's neck, and with several special elections suggesting a giant "blue wave" in November, Mr. Trump is getting ready to do whatever it takes to win, even if that requires fanatical policy.

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Mr. Trump's presidency has been, first and foremost, about marketing Donald Trump. It's what Mr. Trump has done his entire adult life. He doesn't know how to do anything else, nor is he interested in doing anything else.

Now that he's being pushed into a corner, he's reorganizing his team for an epic marketing battle. This requires purging naysayers from his Cabinet and White House staff, because naysayers are terrible at marketing, and replacing them with tried-and-true salespeople such as Messrs. Bolton and Kudlow.

Fox News is being reorganized for the same battle and has made a parallel purge, removing Trump critics such as George Will, Megyn Kelly and Rich Lowry, and installing Trump marketers such Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Sebastian Gorka.

President Trump and Fox News are pushing the same story line — designed to win the marketing war and boost their own ratings the same way.

Some of the story is by now familiar: Liberals have opened America to hostile forces — unauthorized immigrants, Muslims, Chinese traders, criminal gangs, drug dealers, government bureaucrats, coastal elites (Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi), North Korea, Iran and "political correctness" in all its forms.

Mr. Trump intends to protect America from these forces.

The new twist to the story — requiring the recent purges and a united front — is that these forces are conspiring with the FBI to oust Mr. Trump from the presidency.

The membrane separating President Trump's brain from Fox News has always been thin, but in the coming battle it's likely to disappear entirely.

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We all know Mr. Trump watches an inordinate amount of Fox News, beginning in the wee hours with "Fox and Friends," which provides much of the fodder for his morning tweets.

Last Friday, soon after a "Fox and Friends" anchor attacked the new congressional spending bill as a "swamp budget," President Trump tweeted that he was "considering" vetoing it.

After Mr. Trump had forged an agreement with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer last year to grant legal status to so-called "Dreamers" brought to this country illegally as children, Fox News host Sean Hannity told Trump in a phone call — and then repeated on his show — that he needed to be tougher.

Almost immediately, President Trump came up with a list of conditions that thwarted the deal. Mr. Hannity's advice wasn't about policy; it was about marketing. President Trump had to be tougher on Dreamers in order to reinforce his image as a strongman standing up for America against the liberal plot.

President Trump has made Mr. Bolton his national security adviser not because Mr. Bolton has valuable insights about foreign affairs, but because Mr. Bolton — for years an on-air fixture at Fox News — is a showman who knows how to sell big lies and crazy ideas, and can thereby help Mr. Trump in the looming battle.

As undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Bolton did more than anyone else to market the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. During his year and a half at the United Nations, Mr. Bolton was so outspokenly critical of the organization that he gained the devotion of xenophobic conservatives.

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Even before Mr. Trump became president, he was so pleased with Mr. Bolton's performance on Fox News that he named Mr. Bolton one of his sources for national security advice.

It hasn't hurt that Mr. Bolton has sucked up to President Trump since then. Describing Mr. Trump's address to the United Nations last year, Mr. Bolton swooned that "in the entire history of the United Nations, there has never been a more straightforward criticism of the unacceptable behavior of other member states."

Mr. Kudlow isn't a Fox News pundit, but he's been the next-best thing: a right-wing CNBC contributor known for his sharp wit, salesmanship and simplistic "trickle-down" economic views.

Several other cable news anchors and pundits are already in the Trump administration or soon will be, providing additional ammunition for Mr. Trump's marketing salvo.

"He's looking for people who are ready to be part of that television White House," says Kendall Phillips, a communication studies professor at Syracuse University. "This is the Fox television presidency all the way up and down."

How can a television presidency be dangerous? Because it is solely about marketing President Trump. Its only goal is to win. It is unconstrained by truth, reason or the Constitution. It doesn't give a fig about the public.

When the occupant of the White House and the sycophants surrounding him are prepared to use anything, including real-world battles — trade wars and hot wars — to win a political battle at home, nothing and no one is safe.

Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His new book, "The Common Good," is out Feb. 20. His documentary, "Saving Capitalism," is available on Netflix.

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