Not that surprising, is it? Bannon just suffered the indignity of a high-profile demotion and appears to be losing power to Jared Kushner while Priebus’s name has been floated as a potential early exit since practically day one. The news here isn’t that one or the other might be gone soon, it’s that both might be gone soon — a weird, surprising turn if it comes to be given that they were thought initially to be the two main rivals for control of the White House’s agenda. If one left, surely it would be because the other had triumphed.
But maybe that was all wrong. Maybe Kushner and his allies, Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, have been looking to eliminate both, Bannon the right-wing nationalist and Priebus the establishment Republican, to clear the way for a more centrist program. “Who leaked?” is always a fun game to play with media reports of White House dissension, but it’s especially fun now that we know Bannon and Kushner are locked in some sort of death struggle. If there’s a story out there today like the one below hinting that Priebus and Bannon might be headed for the exit, it stands to reason that it came from Team Jared. (Conversely, who do you suppose might have leaked this story about Kushner failing to disclose his foreign contacts on his security clearance forms?)
President Trump is considering a broad shakeup of his White House that could include the replacement of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon, aides and advisers tell us.
A top aide to Trump said he’s contemplating major changes, but that the situation is very fluid and the timing uncertain: “Things are happening, but it’s very unclear the president’s willing to pull that trigger.”…
The top aide — along with many other Trump officials, advisers and friends — told us that it seems to be more a question of “when” not “whether” change will come: “The tension, the exhaustion, the raw nerves have gotten much harder to disguise.”
One of the names being floated to replace Priebus: Gary Cohn, of course, the former Goldman president turned National Economic Council chairman turned Kushner ally whom Bannon’s allies disdain as one of the “Democrats” from New York. If you think Team Jared has influence over policy now, imagine if it’s Cohn instead of Priebus who’s suddenly setting Trump’s daily agenda.
Speaking of Democrats, a fun exchange courtesy of the Times:
Thick with tension, the conversation this week between Stephen K. Bannon, the chief White House strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, had deteriorated to the point of breakdown.
Finally, Mr. Bannon identified why they could not compromise, according to someone with knowledge of the conversation. “Here’s the reason there’s no middle ground,” Mr. Bannon growled. “You’re a Democrat.”
Well, in fairness, so is Trump. And so is Bannon in some ways: It wasn’t Kushner, remember, who gave that interview to the Hollywood Reporter in November hyperventilating about using a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy. It’s also Bannon’s populist allies who seem to most favor a bigger role for government in health care. He and Kushner aren’t as far apart as he and his nationalist fans would like people to think.
But they are far apart on some issues, and not just immigration. Another notable bit from the NYT:
On foreign policy, Mr. Kushner is more inclined toward intervention in the Middle East while Mr. Bannon would prefer that the United States remain as uncommitted as possible. Even as the president signaled this week that he might respond militarily to the chemical attack on civilians in Syria, Mr. Bannon has argued that American interests are better served by not getting drawn any further into the quagmire of a civil war.
Last night’s strikes in Syria are another win for Kushner and a loss for Bannon to accompany his removal from the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. If you believe WaPo, the paranoia inside the White House between “Goldman” and “Breitbart,” as the two camps now reportedly refer to each other, about who might be badmouthing whom to Trump is now so thick that advisors seem afraid to leave Trump alone with their rivals. “One senior official pointed to Trump’s interview Wednesday with the New York Times, during which at least five senior White House staffers, as well as Pence, crowded into the Oval Office.”
There seems no way realistically that Kushner can lose this power struggle with Bannon. One is family, the other isn’t, and Kushner has almost certainly invested more of his “brand” in Trump than Bannon has. Bannon could quit at any time and go back to waging a lucrative populist war online against Trump and Kushner; in fact, between the alt-righters slamming Trump for attacking Syria today and the shots being taken by nationalists at Kushner for sidelining Bannon, that’s already begun to some extent. Where does Kushner go, though? He’ll never be viewed the same way again in liberal New York society after having taken such a prominent role in “the enemy’s” administration. On top of that, he’s literally married to the family and its fortunes. He has to stay, and Bannon can either try to tolerate that or throw in the towel. Assuming Kushner doesn’t succeed in pushing him out, that is.