Wild West Wing

Steve Bannon Succumbs to the West Wing Curse

Will Jared Kushner be next?

Trump, senior advisor Bannon,  and son-in-law Jared Kushner meeting with Senate and House legislators at the White House on February 2, 2017
By Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

It was perhaps Donald Trump’s most successful weekend of his young presidency. His decision to strike a Syrian airbase with 59 Tomahawk missiles received bipartisan acclaim; his much-anticipated meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping went off without a hitch; the sun was shining in Palm Beach, where he got in a good day of golf; and he put a foot down with his backbiting staffers.

After a week of reports that Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was at odds with Trump’s ascendant senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his allies, the president had enough. The rivalry between Bannon’s nationalist faction and Kushner’scentrists had become a distraction from Trump’s diplomatic meetings and Syria strike. The Washington Post reported that Trump ordered the two hash it out, and they did. In a meeting at Mar-a-Lago after President Xi left, Bannon and Kushner reportedly agreed to bury the hatchet and move forward with their work in the White house.

Days later, however, in true Trump fashion, the president poured gasoline on the same fire he tried to put out. In an interview with the New York Post on Tuesday, Trump distanced himself from Bannon and immediately raised questions about his strategist’sfuture in the White House. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”

“Steve is a good guy,” he ended. “But I told them to straighten it out or I will.”

Rumors of Bannon’sdemise within Trump’sinner circle had been swirling since last week, when he was unceremoniously removed from the National Security Counsel, but Trump’s comments on Tuesday all but inscribed them in blood. It is a stunning course correction for Bannon, who was trusted with some of the most vital responsibilities of Trump’s early days, including writing his inaugural address, drafting the president’s executive order banning Muslims, and pushing through the central campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. It so happens that all of those, in some way, failed, which violates a cardinal rule for Trump, who sold himself as the consummate dealmaker and assured voters that his administration would win so much they’d soon grow tired of it.

Bannon committed two other Trump sins. The first was crossing his family, reportedly leaking information about and trash-talking Kushner. The second, and perhaps the gravest sin of all in the president’seyes, was getting credit and attention for Trump’ssuccess.

Because Bannon took on such a key strategic role so early in setting the tone of Trump’scampaign and, later, his administration, Bannon was quickly depicted as the puppeteer pulling the president’sstrings toward his nationalistic agenda (Bannon himself admitted last summer that he had viewed Trump as a “blunt instrument” he could use to put his alt-right ideology into practice). A week into Trump’spresidency, Time magazine put Bannon on its cover as “The Great Manipulator” and, in its pages, asks if he is the “second most powerful man in the world.” Saturday Night Live depicted him as a Grim Reaper controlling Trump, who had been relegated to a tiny desk playing with toys.

The S.N.L. sketch infuriated Trump, The Washington Post reported, as did the Time cover, according to Axios. Trump’scomments to the New York Post on Tuesday—reiterating that he’d been successful long before Bannon joined his campaign in August —- clearly show those wounds have not yet to heal.

Bannon is not the only one in Trump’s inner circle to face what is clearly a sort of West Wing curse. Kellyanne Conway, too, suffered its fate. Until last month, Conway was the sunny, obfuscating face of the administration. She showed up on so many morning programs and evening sit-downs, daytime hits and Sunday shows that S.N.L. parodied her running to a CNN camera in a towel with bath suds still clinging to her shoulders and New York put her on its cover last month as the “True First Lady of Trump’s America.” (She also ruffled Ivanka Trump’s feathers — a sin, as we know — when she promoted the First Daughter’s eponymous clothing line in an interview on Fox News.) The attention on Conway and her role in the president’s success got too hot. These days, she is rarely on television, and Kushner’snew innovation-focused White House office took over two of the issues she had said she had claimed as her own.

Kushner is poised to be the curse’snext victim. Last week, as he traveled to Iraq and settled into an expansive portfolio that includes his American Innovation task force, solving Middle East peace, liaising with foreign leaders, and leading infrastructure reform, the media labeled him “President Kushner.” CNN chyrons called him “the Secretary of Everything.”

But Kushner is family, and by all accounts, untouchable. He already weathered a Forbes cover stating “This guy got Trump elected” and a New York one labeling him “President in-Law.” He not only made it through those, but he has since ascended even higher in the president’s ranks.

There may be a limit to Trump’s patience, however, particularly if Kushner takes or receives credit for any policy wins that come out of his office. Trump values family loyalty more than most things, perhaps only apart from winning. That is why a 36-year-old with no political experience, and a resume filled only with a decade working for his own father’s real estate company, became one of the most powerful people in the Western world; Trump rarely trusts anyone as much as he trusts his own family to get the job done. But at the end of the day, the plaudits must redound to the patriarch. If anyone in the Trump White House is likely to have learned this lesson by now, it’s Kushner.

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