- REUTERS/Mike Segar
As White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon stepped down from the National Security Council this week, tensions between him and senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, burst into the open.
Several reports in recent days have detailed the brewing conflict. The Daily Beast reported Thursday that Bannon had called Kushner a “cuck” behind his back.
Bannon also told his associates, “I love a gunfight,” according to an Axios report, which said that “the hatred between the two wings” in the White House was “intense and irreconcilable.”
The stories of civil war in the White House started rolling out in earnest this week after the White House announced Trump was reorganizing the NSC and that Bannon would no longer be on it. In January, Trump signed a controversial memorandum that removed some of the nation’s top military and intelligence advisers as regular attendees of the NSC’s principals committee and elevated Bannon.
Bannon quickly went into damage-control mode, with his allies selling the NSC demotion as a “natural evolution” rather than a sign of his waning influence, according to The New York Times.
The Times also reported that despite his efforts to play it cool with the media, Bannon resisted his removal from the NSC and at one point threatened to quit over it. Axios reported, however, that Bannon had been telling associates that such stories were “100% nonsense.”
In any case, tensions clearly are running high.
The civil war might not have started with the decision to remove Bannon from the NSC – New York Magazine reported that it started with the failed effort by Republicans to pass a healthcare-reform bill – but now that the narrative about Bannon has shifted to one of him losing power, the infighting has become more public.
The Daily Beast reported that fighting had been nonstop between Bannon and Kushner for weeks and that the two often clashed face-to-face. One official told the news outlet that Bannon said Kushner was trying to “shiv him and push him out the door.” They said Bannon recently vented about Kushner “being a ‘globalist’ and a ‘cuck.'”
“He actually said ‘cuck,’ as in ‘cuckservative,'” they said.
A senior official told The Daily Beast the friction between the Bannon and Kushner camps boiled down to policy. They said there was tension “on trade, health care, immigration, taxes, [terrorism] – you name it.”
Bannon is frequently described as a populist and a nationalist, and Trump embraced some of these sentiments on the campaign trail as he appealed to voters with an “America First” message. Kushner, the husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is seen as a more moderating force on Trump.
CNN reported that Bannon’s removal from the NSC signaled a power shift in the White House and Trump moving away “from the more hard-line ideological bent of Bannon.” And sources told Politico that Bannon felt as though Kushner and his allies were trying to undermine his populist approach.
A person familiar with Bannon’s thinking told Politico that the “big fight is between nationalists and the West Wing Democrats.”
It seems that, for now, the latter wing is coming out on top. As Bannon is marginalized, Kushner’s star is rising.
Kushner recently went on a high-profile trip to Iraq and has found allies in Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, who have become more influential.
Bannon can count Attorney General Jeff Sessions, policy adviser Stephen Miller, and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway among his allies, according to Axios. But Trump has been known to keep his family close, and that would include Kushner.
Trump might also have political reasons to reign in Bannon. Media outlets have reported that Trump has been annoyed with the credit Bannon has received for the Trump administration’s agenda, illustrated by a “Saturday Night Live” skit portraying Bannon as a puppet master.
The fighting between Bannon and Kushner has had a trickle-down effect, according to Politico.
“As we get further away from Inauguration Day, it is very obvious that no one cares what happens to the people who worked for the campaign or who have loyalty to the president,” one former Trump campaign aide told Politico. “The swamp is winning the battle. And longtime campaign staffers are proving to be the first casualties.”