I’ve been hitting this every chance I get, lately.
Mainly it’s the schadenfreude, of course, but otherwise, it’s just good to know who’s shaping policy.
A story with The Hill today maps out the behind-the-scenes power plays, as far as who’s rising and who’s being squeezed out. It’s pretty much everything we’ve been talking about, and it really comes down to a single issue: Trump’s ego.
If he feels your star is rising too fast and you’re getting attention – you’re done.
On the other hand, if you keep your head down, avoid the media, and keep him the star of the show, you’re fine.
So who’s seeing their influence wane?
Senior adviser Stephen Miller, counselor Kellyanne Conway, chief of staff Reince Priebus (although some reports say he’s safe, as he has indicated that he’s all in with keeping the peace), and of course, chief strategist, Steve Bannon have all either seen their media presence diminish, or have become central figures in rumors of being ousted.
So if those key players are on the downslide, who is rising?
Again, we’ve heard these names before. It’s this cabal of New York Democrats: economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.
Trump’s allies say there are two rules the president has for those who work for him. Unless you’re paid a paid spokesperson, you should only engage with the press to promote Trump’s agenda. And don’t ever forget that Trump is the main attraction.
“The only media strategy that exists is one aimed at making the president look better,” said one former transition official. “You don’t ever want to become bigger than the star.”
The New York crew have managed to avoid any public flubs or controversy, for most part.
You never hear about Cohn or Powell. Ivanka gets attention because of her close relationship and influence over her father, but he’s not about to shuffle her off.
Kushner has, of late, become the subject of attention because of his failure to disclose contacts with several Russian players on his paperwork for his security clearance.
It would likely sink anybody else (and we’ve seen that it has, with several Trump associates), but Trump won’t get rid of him, either.
Republicans say the New York gang — perhaps having learned from watching Trump use his hometown papers to cut down fast-rising business partners and allies — have been shrewd to lay low and play the behind-the-scenes game.
“Some of these folks are learning first hand about how Trump operated in the private sector,” said one GOP operative with close ties to the White House. “He wouldn’t hesitate to take not-so-subtle shots at those he sees as rising too fast around him, which is something you’d know if you’ve been reading the New York tabloids for the last 20 or 25 years.”
He’s gotta have that spotlight, and the presidency is the biggest show in the world.
Bannon may not have set out to make the presidency all about himself, but he certainly saw his role as a way to get his national populist agenda out there.
It was that national populism that helped get Trump in office.
That, and the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a horrible candidate.
A lot of speculation was circulating that Bannon was the “real” president. At some point, somebody started the hashtag, #PresidentBannon (the latest incarnation is #PresidentKushner).
The Saturday Night Live skits, with Alec Baldwin as the bumbling, unaware Trump and a grim reaper-as-Bannon whispering in his ear may have had a lot to do with why Trump has felt necessary over the past week to press that he didn’t know Bannon before, and that Bannon had nothing to do with his winning the presidency.
Two Bannon allies blamed Bannon’s West Wing foes Cohn and Kushner for planting stories meant to play up his influence, knowing that the image-conscious Trump would resent Bannon for it.
“Steve is not a guy who plants stories in the press to toot his own horn,” one Bannon ally said.
And when is the last time you’ve seen Kellyanne Conway on TV? Was it the thing with her feet on the couch?
I honestly don’t know.
She had a few rough interviews, made a few flubs, then she just sort of went away.
Miller, Trump’s policy adviser, had to defend the controversial executive order banning immigrants from Muslim-majority countries in multiple TV interviews after it became a public relations disaster for the administration.
What everyone seems to agree on is that the two camps are waging war through media leaks. Nobody is speaking openly, and it’s always anonymous “sources” that are giving information to the media, but the purpose is the same: expose and undermine the opposition.
The feud between Bannon and Cohn or Kushner played out through leaks and counter-leaks in the press last week before Trump reportedly brokered a cease-fire and rebuked Bannon publicly.
“Reporters were the first to start telling me 3 weeks ago that Bannon was starting to regularly trash Jared to anyone who would listen,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a frequent critic of Bannon and Miller, tweeted Wednesday. “So I did my job, talked to a lot of people on the inside and got the complete story early. Today’s headlines suggest those multiple sources were right.”
Bannon’s allies with Breitbart have accused Powell of being a major source of leaks.
Breitbart’s London editor, Raheem Kassam implicated Powell, and asked MSNBC’s Scarborough and Mika Brzezenski on Twitter about their communications with Powell.
Honestly, I can’t imagine where he would get that notion, unless Bannon was telling him it was Powell behind the leaks.
Those close to the White House say the feuding is beginning to weigh on the president.
“Donald Trump does not like to see infighting and more importantly does not like to see his aides thrown under bus by other staffers,” said one former administration adviser. “It has the effect of backfiring. If you’re trying to sideline rising figures in the White House with leaks to the press, you might find it creates the opposite effect.”
It has become increasingly obvious that Trump used what he needed to get to the White House – Bannon and the alt-right nationalists – then began his shift to the middle, once he didn’t have an election to worry about.