October 30

Bannon, Kushner and Priebus: rivals for power at the heart of Trump’s team


Strategist Steve Bannon has likened himself to Thomas Cromwell as he, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and adviser Jared Kushner seek the president-elects ear

One by one they came, walking by the marble walls, the cascading waterfall, the ogling tourists and the eager cameras, into the shiny lifts and up to the 26th floor to kiss the ring of the new king.

This week, Trump Tower was a hive of scurrying courtiers, from a prime minister, media mogul and nonagenarian diplomat to senators, congressmen and businessmen. And as the palace intrigue deepened, it was apparent that three men, in particular, had the ear of President-elect Donald Trump.

I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors, Steve Bannon, Trumps chief strategist, told the Hollywood Reporter, likening himself to Henry VIIIs righthand man and master manipulator (who, in a fact he may have overlooked, was ultimately executed for treason). Bannon did not propose historical roles for Reince Priebus, chief of staff, or Jared Kushner, an intimate adviser married to Trumps daughter, but they are his rivals for Trumps attention.

Shaun Bowler, associate dean of political science at the University of California, Riverside, likened the plot to Hilary Mantels historical novel Wolf Hall. Her account of people tiptoeing around a character like Henry VIII strikes me as providing lots of insight into what life for advisers will be like inside the White House from now on, he said. What we probably can say is that whatever the actual pattern of influence we can be pretty sure that at least one of them will end up leaving after a blow-up.

The scenario seemed unthinkable just two weeks ago, when polls showed Hillary Clinton on course for the White House and the Republican party hurtling towards civil war. Then, in the most stunning upset in US politics for at least half a century, Republicans swept the board and Democrats plunged into despair. What was supposed to be a valedictory foreign tour for Barack Obama became a glum mission to soothe a panicking world, a plea to keep calm and carry on.

Until Obama hands over power to Trump on inauguration day, on 20 January, the political spotlight is on the former US capital, New York, where Trump is huddled with his transition team. Police have been forced to barricade sidewalks near Trump Tower and a no-fly zone has been imposed above it.

Last Sunday, the president-elect made his first move. He announced that Bannon would be chief strategist, triggering a fierce backlash because of the advisers executive role at the website Breitbart, which has run white nationalist and antisemitic headlines. At the same time, Trump appointed the more conventional Priebus to the more conventional role of chief of staff. The chairperson of the Republican National Committee (RNC) had been unswervingly loyal ever since the end of the primaries, even while the candidate ignored pleas to tone down the rhetoric.

Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon: opposites in many ways. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

But there is also a third centre of power, unofficial but no less important. Kushner, a property developer, investor and newspaper publisher married to Trumps daughter, Ivanka, is said to have called the shots throughout the campaign and is now doing the same in the transition. He was present at Thursdays meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and reportedly behind a Stalinesque purge of the transition team.

There are other major players in the Trump universe. They include Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, a vital bridge to Congress and the conservative movement; Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the first senator to endorse Trump and now the nominee for attorney general; Paul Ryan, the House speaker with whom Trump has made a fragile peace; and Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate.

But it is Priebus, Bannon and Kushner, vying for 70-year-old Trumps infamously short attention span, who could form the most potent triumvirate in the Oval Office since the days when Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove counseled George W Bush. Given Trumps track record of pitting rivals against each other in his business, campaign and reality TV show, they probably face an uncertain future.

Apparently Trump likes to manage with concentric circles of chaos, said Michael Steele, Priebuss predecessor as RNC chair. He doesnt mind that. He likes the tension between the different sectors of influence. So far youve got the Kushner circle, youve got the Bannon circle, they all interrelate into Trumps circle but when they have to work with each other, thats where the challenge is going to be because their interests are very different interests.

Priebus, a technocrat and consummate party man, will be the voice of the Republican establishment, and a vital conduit to Congress, including Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite.

Reince is not Donald Trumps guy, Steele added. Bannon is. Reince is Paul Ryans guy and so Trump is doing what he thinks he needs to do to create some olive branches to the establishment types because he knows he needs them. But, quite honestly, they need him just as much. I suspect, as much as they will try to play it down, there will be some tough times where those interests will conflict.

During the campaign, Kushner, well-mannered but guarded, emerged as operational guru, helping with recruitment, online fundraising, drafting policy and even selecting a running mate. Over the past week Kushner was said to have orchestrated the removal of transition team leader Chris Christie and his allies; Christie had successfully prosecuted his father for tax evasion 11 years ago.

Kushner, 35, is taking legal advice on whether he can get around anti-nepotism laws to join the new administration, the New York Times reported. Like Trump, he is steeped in the property world and has no political experience. Im sure hes a very smart young man, a very successful businessman, Steele said. But he doesnt know foreign policy, he doesnt know national security, thats not the world in which he has operated.


Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon, Trump administration, US news, US politics

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