Bannon vs Kushner? And is it important for Trump’s White House?

According to media reports the White House is witnessing some Steve Bannon vs Jared Kushner conflict and it seems Kushner gains the upper hand. In your opinion to what extent the dynamics in the White House and administration affects President Donald Trump’s decisions? Of course he was hardly a candidate with coherent views but it seems that these days he really somehow flip-flops on many issues – China, Russia, NATO, Syria, even Janet Yellen. Read few comments from experts.

Russell Riley, Associate Professor and Co-chair of the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program, University of Virginia

It is always hard to know from the outside exactly how much to believe these kind of news reports about internal matters within an administration—yet there is so much smoke these days that one has to think there is fire somewhere.

I actually think that if there is a conflict between Kushner and Bannon, it is more fundamentally a symptom than a cause, of problems.  As you yourself identify, this President evidently has no fixed compass on most matters, leaving the White House subject to his whims and mood changes.  So the turmoil we hear about as much as anything else reflects the president’s inability to set a course and stick with it.  His own changeability feeds conflict among a staff charged with advising him and carrying out his commands.

If there genuinely IS a conflict between Bannon and Kushner, nobody in the world should be surprised with who will win.  But the steadily rising use of Kushner to handle everything from the Middle East to bringing business practices to government will cause its own problems later.  First, he may not be able to handle any of it—we have no experience on which to base a judgment about his competence as a political actor—and he surely cannot handle all of it, because each piece of his portfolio would normally fill a normally competent staff member’s agenda full time.  And, as importantly, he’s the boss’s son-in-law, which means people will treat him differently—which has mounting costs.  Bill Clinton’s experience using Hillary to run the health care reform effort in his first term failed in part because people would not give Hillary their honest assessments of things—fearing the anger of the First Family. Kushner will probably face the same problem. ((And his involvement with the Russian story is another potential problem for him.)   At some point the president simply has to find other people he can fully trust to delegate critical tasks. Maybe the single biggest mistake Donald Trump is making now is assuming that his decision not to fill top jobs in the bureaucracy means that the government is running leaner and more efficient.  What it really means is that there is nobody assigned to help him carry out his agenda in each of the departments.

Diana Carlin, Professor Emerita of Communication, Saint Louis University

It is unlikely that any US President has not experienced power struggles among those in the West Wing. In a biography of President George H.W. Bush, for example, the 41st President commented on some of the power issues in his son’s administration involving Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Advisors are there to provide information on which a President can make informed decisions and it is natural for aides to jockey for position to give that advice. The Trump White House is different from many, however, in that one of the President’s chief advisors, Jared Kushner, has no past government experience and is his son-in-law. Thus, he has a better chance of getting his message through and it may be one that others with more experience might challenge. Trump is accustomed to a “family” business and he brought that dynamic with him to the White House with Kushner and daughter Ivanka. Where the real differences occur between Bannon and Kushner may well be the result of Bannon being a true ideologue and Kushner a pragmatic businessman. Trump and Kushner have more in common, including a lack of a deeply and long-held political ideology. Trump gravitated to Bannon during the campaign because Bannon’s ideology fit with that of many Trump appealed to. Now that Trump has to govern a nation rather than campaign to a particular demographic, the ideology may not always fit.

Many candidates for the US presidency campaign on domestic issues but find themselves embroiled in international crises within their first few months or years. Trump is discovering that no matter how much a President wants to put “America First” we are a world power. Some of his flip-flops likely come from a lack of sufficient background and history on issues such as the role NATO is playing and has played in the fight on terrorism. During the campaign, Trump was not always well versed on issues other than those on his agenda. Once someone becomes President, the agenda is set by external forces far more than by a campaign agenda. Trump is quickly discovering that and is adapting. In doing so, flip-flops are inevitable.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, Professor and Chair of Political Science, University of North Texas

It is very difficult to gauge the inner workings of the White House as they are happening.  Leaks are somewhat informative, but they may be misleading; the leaker often feels as if their views are not being considered in the White House, and so they seek an outlet to express their views.  Leaks may not tell the entire story, but the story of a disgruntled staffer.  We really need to wait for comprehensive journalistic accounts and, for more accuracy, the presidential papers to be studied by scholars.  That takes about 15 year after an Administration, at least!

With that, it certainly appears that Bannon is losing favor in the White House.  This could certainly be driving some of the foreign policy positions shifts that we are seeing lately.  It could well be that Bannon was useful in getting Trump elected, by his worldview is inconsistent with the reality of a complex international environment.  I suppose it is not a surprise: all presidents’ foreign policy positions moderate once they look under the hood, as it were.  Yet, Trump will have many a flip-flop to explain to the American people if he runs for reelection in 2020, with many of his supporters, perhaps deserting him, given the stark contrast between Trump’s rhetoric and governance.  It is also confusing for other nations and, at least in the short term, I suspect that Trump does not have much credibility on the world’s stage and any effort to organize a coalition—whether to punish Syria or Russia—may be undermined by the apparent hypocrisy of the early Trump Administration.

Campaigning is not governing, something that Trump is learning very quickly.

Steffen SchmidtUniversity Professor of Political Science, Iowa State University

The changes taking place in the White House are real and important. Mr Bannon believes that the institutions government and the policies they have pursued over the past 50 years need to be destroyed and replaced with more nationalist perspectives.

These views are in conflict with the views of the more conventional policy underpinnings that have been stable and productive. Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Trump daughter Ivanka, Sec of State Tillerson, Sec of defense Mattis, Energy Sec Perry who was governor of Texas, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford seem to now be dominant. These are well respected and add a calming element to the “climate” in the White House.

I believe that Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, are now in decline.

The new “team” is there to “transition” candidate Trump from what is called “campaign mode” and from campaign staff (the Bannon group) to PRESIDENT Trump. I believe that Trump’s new positions on China, Russia, NATO, Syria, even Janet Yellen are his new, more informed, “Presidential” positions which will shape the Trump administration going forward. Remember that Trump won by promising his voters to bring real and major change to Washington. Now he has to deliver on policy which requires different behavior.


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