“President Obama had a very well developed worldview and I understood what he wanted to say,” Rhodes told me. “Therefore there was clarity in what the message was … It’s difficult to execute that kind of role if the president doesn’t have a clear and consistent message.”
“[Anton] came into a very difficult situation and created a functioning press shop,” said Victoria Coates, Anton’s deputy. “It’s apples and oranges,” Coates said of the Rhodes comparison. “It’s not the same position. And I think you can look at other positions in the Trump administration that would be the equivalent of Ben Rhodes’s position, but his one isn’t it.”
Bannon had another explanation for why Anton won’t become a second Rhodes: The NSC is different under Trump.
"I'm not trying to disparage Ben Rhodes but I always viewed Ben Rhodes as more operational,” Bannon said. In his view, the Obama administration had "operationalized the NSC.”
“What President Trump and General McMaster have done is go in the opposite direction, getting the NSC back to its proper role and function,” Bannon said.
Anton has a "very precise understanding of the processes of communications,” Bannon said, remarking that it was rare in Washington or New York to have a "comms person who is also a deep intellect."
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Trim and handsome at 47, married with two children, Anton spent the previous decade in relative obscurity. After a few years as a speechwriter in the Bush administration’s National Security Council, Anton had a series of corporate jobs and wrote on the side. His subjects ranged far and wide, from cooking—in an essay that describes his brief stint working as a line cook in a French restaurant to learn more about the craft—to Tom Wolfe, whom he considers a friend, to the Beach Boys, to Napa Valley.
Anton’s writing became more topical as the campaign progressed. Fearful of losing his corporate job, with the financial-services firm BlackRock, he chose a pseudonym: Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul who sacrificed his life at the Battle of Vesuvius. Under the Decius byline, Anton offered forceful defenses of Trump and aggressive broadsides against those on the right who opposed him.
Anton gave me a long explanation for his nom de plume, including a point-by-point rundown of the battle of Vesuvius as described by Roman historian Livy, as well as an exegesis of the showdown between Hannibal and Fabius Maximus Cunctator at the Battle of Cannae. But it boils down to this: Anton sees in Decius the embodiment of the ideals of Machiavelli, the thinker who has been his lodestar.
“There was no way to break authority’s hold over philosophy without shock therapy,” Anton said of Machiavelli. “He delivered the shock therapy by all the pungent, obnoxious, outrageous things he says in his books, which makes him forever after known as an evil schemer, the devil incarnate, and so on. He knew that would be his fate. He knew that would be what most people would think of him for all of eternity. He did it anyway. He accepted upon himself the opprobrium of the world, in order to assess what he thought was necessary in the liberation of thought from under the thumb of authority. In that sense, he is decent. He didn’t sacrifice his body, his wealth, his life; but he sacrificed his reputation.”