Kush­ner v Bannon: bat­tle for soul of White House


DON­ALD Trump’s many ex­tra­or­di­nary claims on the cam­paign trail last year, one per­haps stands out the most. “We’re go­ing to win so much,” he promised Amer­i­cans if he be­came pres­i­dent, “you’re go­ing to be so sick and tired of win­ning.”

But with his travel ban en­tan­gled in the courts, a bloody nose from Congress over his health­care plans and record low ap­proval rat­ings, the first three months of the Trump pres­i­dency have been char­ac­terised by a nearun­bro­ken los­ing streak.

As Mr Trump’s crew strug­gle to right the list­ing ship of state, two of the pres­i­dent’s key lieu­tenants now ap­pear locked in a ti­tanic bat­tle to seize the wheel. Mr Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, wants to steer the ad­min­is­tra­tion to­wards calmer seas and a more tra­di­tional course; his chief strate­gist, Steve Bannon, is con­vinced that — how­ever choppy the wa­ters — the pres­i­dent must con­tin­u­ing rid­ing the pop­ulist wave that brought him vic­tory last Novem­ber.

It is a fight which Mr Kush­ner seems cur­rently to be win­ning. As his White House sphere of in­flu­ence grows — along­side re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­la­tions with Canada, Mex­ico and China and se­cur­ing what the pres­i­dent terms the “ul­ti­mate deal” be­tween the Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans — Mr Kush­ner is also in charge of the newly es­tab­lished White House Of­fice of Amer­i­can In­no­va­tion. Mean­while, Mr Bannon’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are shrink­ing: last week, he was ejected from his seat on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Among each man’s key al­lies are some of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lead­ing Jewish mem­bers. Mr Kush­ner is, un­sur­pris­ingly, sup­ported by his wife, Ivanka (now the proud oc­cu­pant of her own West Wing of­fice), and by Gary Cohn, the former Gold­man Sachs pres­i­dent who now heads Mr Trump’s Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil. Me­dia re­ports sug­gest Mr Cohn’s star is ris­ing and that he is in line to be­come chief of staff if the pres­i­dent throws the cur­rent oc­cu­pant of the post, Reince Priebus, over­board. “Is Gary Cohn now Trump’s new favourite aide?” asked Van­ity Fair last week.

Mr Bannon, how­ever, has the sup­port of Stephen Miller, Mr Trump’s se­nior pol­icy ad­viser. Although brought up in a lib­eral Jewish home in Santa Mon­ica, Mr Miller be­came a rightwing fire­brand at high school, rail­ing against mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism on ra­dio shows. He is a firm sup­porter of Mr Bannon’s agenda of “eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism” and op­po­si­tion to im­mi­gra­tion and, along­side the pres­i­dent’s chief strate­gist, crafted both Mr Trump’s “Amer­ica First” in­au­gu­ral speech and the travel ban.

While Mr Bannon once pro­claimed Mr Kush­ner “re­ally gets this grass­roots, pop­ulist move­ment in a huge way” and the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law jok­ingly sug­gested knock­ing down the wall be­tween their of­fices, the two men are now ap­par­ently us­ing rather less warm words about one another. Mr Bannon is al­leged to have dubbed Kush­ner a “glob­al­ist” and a “cuck” (right-wing slang which com­bines “cuck­old” and “con­ser­va­tive”) be­hind his back. Mr Kush­ner is re­ported to have sug­gested Mr Bannon is an ide­o­logue who plays to the pres­i­dent’s worst in­stincts.

But while Pres­i­dent Trump blames Mr Bannon and Mr Miller for the snafu over the travel ban — and both Mr Kush­ner and Mr Cohn’s in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion to the health­care bill has been vin­di­cated — the pres­i­dent will also be highly aware of the need to tend his po­lit­i­cal base. That both Mr Kush­ner and Mr Cohn are long-stand­ing Democrats — Mr Cohn do­nated to Hil­lary Clin­ton in 2008 and made no con­tri­bu­tion to the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign last year — has been used by their op­po­nents to ques­tion the two men’s ide­o­log­i­cal cre­den­tials. “Gary Cohn would be too lib­eral for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. I don’t know what he’s do­ing in a Repub­li­can White House,” one con­ser­va­tive charged over the week­end. Mr Bannon, mean­while, is said to have told Mr Kush­ner: “Here’s the rea­son there’s no mid­dle ground. You’re a Demo­crat.”

The bat­tle is not, how­ever, sim­ply one about pol­i­tics and pol­icy. Mr Kush­ner and Ivanka ap­pear con­cerned about the dam­age their care­fully pol­ished me­dia im­age is sus­tain­ing, let­ting it be known, for in­stance, that they squelched an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that would have re­duced LGBT work­ers’ em­ploy­ment pro­tec­tions. “I’m sure Steve Bannon’s pol­i­tics are vaguely em­bar­rass­ing to Jared and Ivanka when they go to these Tony par­ties on the Up­per West Side,” sneered one Trump as­so­ciate to the Guardian. At the same time, Mr Trump is said to be less than amused by com­edy sketches por­tray­ing Mr Bannon as the pup­pet master and was ran­kled by a Time mag­a­zine cover por­tray­ing his aide as “The Great Ma­nip­u­la­tor”.

But most of all, of course, Mr Trump is sim­ply sick and tired of los­ing.


Ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences: Bannon (left) and Kush­ner

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