Thursday, April 06, 2017


A month or two ago, Steve Bannon seemed like the real president of the United States. Now he's so deep in the president's doghouse that he nearly quit the White House, according to Politico:
The man credited with honing Donald Trump’s populist message and guiding him into the White House has grown frustrated amid continued infighting in the West Wing, so much so that in recent weeks a top donor had to convince him to stay in his position....

Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, a longtime Bannon confidante who became a prominent Trump supporter during the campaign, urged Bannon not to resign. “Rebekah Mercer prevailed upon him to stay,” said one person familiar with the situation.
The New York Times also reports that Bannon " threaten[ed] at one point to quit" in response to his removal from the National Security Council.

The real battle, Politico says, is -- and you won't be surprised to learn this -- between Bannon and Jared Kushner:
Bannon has also butted heads with Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who considers him an ideologue whose advice to Trump is making it harder for the president to win popular support for his agenda, according to people familiar with the dynamic.

The tension between the two is indicative of a larger power struggle in the White House as Kushner’s prominence and responsibility have ballooned. He has helped to expand the authority of two senior West Wing officials who, like him, are less ideological in nature: former Goldman Sachs executives Gary Cohn, who is now chairman of the National Economic Council, and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser for strategy. The national security directive removing Bannon from the NSC explicitly authorized Powell to attend the National Security Council's Principals' and Deputies' Committee meetings.
These are the people who are referred to by their rivals in the White House as "the Democrats," according to a March 18 Washington Post story. (Cohn actually is a Democrat, but a fair number of Wall Streeters are Democrats, primarily because they're New York based, and the politicians they own ... er, work with on a regular basis tend to be in the Democratic Party.)

So is Bannon on the way out? One source quoted in the Times story says you shouldn't jump to that conclusion:
James Jeffrey, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush, said General McMaster appeared to have “scored one on the presumably more powerful Bannon,” but cautioned against reading too much into what it meant for Mr. Bannon. “He seems to be very close to the president and, by most accounts, still wins many of his battles,” Mr. Jeffrey said.
It seems as if Kushner is now the real president of the United States, which is what we thought about Bannon a few weeks ago, but that may just be because Trump needs a scapegoat for his presidency's recent failures, and Bannon is a convenient one:
Mr. Trump initially supported Mr. Bannon’s take-it-or-leave-it final message to holdouts in the House Freedom Caucus. But, needing a win, the president grew skeptical and authorized Mr. Pence to resume health care talks, with Mr. Bannon playing more of a supporting role, according to three people close to Mr. Trump....

Moreover, Mr. Bannon’s Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing’s only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda — and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the “President Bannon” puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.
Others -- Cohn or even Kushner -- could be Trump's scapegoats in the future when some subsequent White House effort fails. Though I wonder whether Trump is capable of losing faith in Kushner.

Meanwhile, it's not as if Trump is becoming a liberal. His administration isn't reaching out to Democrats in an effort to revive the health care bill -- it's working exclusively with Republicans. Trump wants to move on to infrastructure, but he hasn't spoken to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in months, according to another Times story, and while there's great fanfare about increased infrastructure spending, a couple of huge projects in Schumer's home state might get their funding cut:
President Trump said he was considering “accelerating” the introduction of his $1 trillion infrastructure bill — but he pointedly refused to say whether he planned to include two major New York City transportation projects that his budget for next year would defund....

The president ... has proposed eliminating an Obama-era infrastructure program that would have funded long-delayed proposals to build a new train tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, and extend the Second Avenue subway in Manhattan north to East Harlem.

State and city leaders say both projects are essential: The subway line is needed to alleviate congestion on Manhattan’s East Side, and the tunnel is needed to improve deteriorating rail service in the heavily trafficked Eastern corridor and provide a new conduit for freight in the event of a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Threatening to cut this doesn't strike me as a politically shrewd way to win over the opposition party on infrastructure.

It's clear that Trump is still a Republican listening to administration Republicans -- either that or the ascendant "Democrats" aren't particularly Democratic, if by "Democratic" you mean "progressive." (They are Wall Streeters, after all. They seem to want infrastructure to be done exclusively with tax credits rather than new federal spending, and they seem more concerned with accelerating approvals for projects already on the drawing board than they are with new projects.)

As for Bannon, he may have lost influence, but it's easy to imagine the status of Pence going into decline if there's never a health care bill, or Cohn's status falling if the White House can't pass infrastructure. At that point, Bannon may still be around and we'll hear that the new message in the White House is "Let Trump be Trump" -- i.e.e, Trump should go back to being the angry nationalist fight-starter. At that point, we'll be told that Bannon is on the ascent again.

But can Kushner lose favor? It's hard to say. He's been given too many tasks, many of which he's not qualified to carry out, while others -- Middle East peace? -- are beyond most people's capabilities. So he'll start failing soon, and then we'll find out.


UPDATE: Axios reports that "all but dad" in the Trump family "are done with Bannon and his politics," while also offering Bannon's side of this. Short version: He won't be taken alive and he has friends who can hurt his enemies.
Killing Bannon won't be easy: His staunchest ally is one of Trump's closest confidants — Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Kellyanne Conway will go to the mat for him, as will policy advisor Stephen Miller. He's also built strong relationships with other cabinet secretaries including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. In the end, though, family matters most and all but dad are done with Bannon and his politics.

Bannon's allies on the outside include, as Trump might say, some "bad hombres."

"Steve has developed strong and important relationships with some of the most powerful right-leaning business leaders," said a close Bannon ally outside of the White House. "I see some bad press in [Jared's] future."
First thought when I read this: Does anyone have any popcorn? Second thought: Guys, it's a scary world -- aren't you supposed to be focused on running the country?

MORE: Media Matters notes that bad coverage of Kushner is already well under way at Breitbart, although there's been nothing truly vicious (or viral) yet. C'mon, Mercers! With the money you're throwing around, you ought to be able to find somebody who'll sling mud at Jared that sticks.


UPDATE: Digby provides an answer to my question about Jared Kuhner's likelihood of spending time in the doghouse:
Timothy O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” ... had the Kushner rise pegged in January, when he participated in a Politico roundtable of Trump biographers:
Tim O’Brien: At the end of the day, the two most powerful people in his White House, other than him, are going to be Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and they’re going to have the final say on everything. And whatever Gary Cohn or Rex Tillerson or Gen. Mattis or Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon has to say, it will all end up getting filtered through Javanka.

Michael Kruse: Did you just say “Javanka”?

O’Brien: Yeah. Other than those two, he won’t listen to anyone in a meaningful way, and he never has listened to anyone outside of his core group and family at the Trump Organization for decades, and that’s not going to change.

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