In the Byzantine world of President Trump’s inner circle, it’s now Jared Kushner’s turn to be down — while Steve Bannon is on his way up.
At least this is the way Trump political-watchers view the current ebb and flow of White House power struggles, where the conservative wing led by Bannon is once again in vogue, and the moderates, represented by Kushner and first daughter Ivanka Trump, seem to be loosing clout.
While Kushner is facing an FBI investigation and congressional testimonies centering on his ties with Russia, Bannon and fellow ultra-conservatives in the Trump realm are enjoying a renewed run of success. And it has to do as much with Kushner’s personal problems as any policy lines his son-in-law has been promoting.
Exhibit A in the new order of things in Trump-land was the Paris climate accord. Kushner and Ivanka Trump did their best to influence the president not to withdraw from the accord. They were joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
But Bannon proved that he has the better reading of Trump’s mindset and successfully convinced the president to follow the perceived leanings of his working class base and drop out of the global climate agreement.
The shift in the inner circle’s center of gravity has to do not only with the sense that Kushner’s status has been jeopardized by the Russian investigation and therefore he can be challenged, but also due to the re-centering of the Trump presidency around what CNN describes as a recent “embrace of populist positions.” Those are the same positions that Trump believes delivered him an electoral victory in November.
This paradigm also played out in Trump’s decision to pick fights with European leaders during his recent overseas trip and to avoid, despite the urging of top national security advisers, any reference to America’s commitment to the NATO treaty’s mutual defense commitment. Trump also returned, forcefully, to the idea of reviving his ban on entry from six Muslim-majority countries, another rallying cry for Trump’s diehard supporters.
And while Bannon’s worldview has prevailed in recent weeks, Kushner’s has been busy trying to prove that he is still a valuable asset to the President. This task has become all the more difficult, with far-right pundits already prepared to throw Kushner overboard and pin the entire Russian affair on the 36-year-old real estate executive. The Washington Post points to an Ann Coulter column in which she claimed that while there was no case of Trump collusion with the Russians, there is a “possibility of real corruption” surrounding Kushner.
Coulter listed allegations relating to Kushner, including his undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador and with a banker close to Putin, his possible attempt to draw Russian investors to a real estate project, and his sister’s pitch to wealthy Chinese in a visa-for-investment offer.
“If you weren’t insane, the blindingly obvious question would be: Why did Kushner meet with the head of a state-controlled Russian bank?” Coulter asked.
It’s not often that Democrats agree with Coulter, but several lawmakers are reportedly planning to ask the first son-in-law the same question when he appears before their probe.
For the far-right, Kushner has been an easy target for a while. Alex Jones of Infowars has been pushing for Kushner’s firing, accusing him of being a “globalist,” and radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, as late as last month, told his listeners that Kushner, who comes from a family of Democratic supporters, is not a Republican and “not even a conservative.”
Bannon may be doing more than just watching from the sidelines as his rival in the battle over the president’s ear falls to earth.
“Steve Bannon was running around, according to my sources, bragging to journalists a month-and-a-half ago that he didn’t have to worry about Kushner and he was going to sideline Kushner because of Russia,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough told viewers of his popular TV show on the morning after Trump withdrew from the Paris Accord. “Steve Bannon has been leaking — I believe, based on everything I’ve heard — has been leaking these stories.”
Kushner has maintained his trademark silence and has not responded publicly to the accusations of improper contacts with the Russians, nor to claims from within the conservative camp that he is the source of Trump’s never ending problems with the Russian probe.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman