Calling what happened in the White House on Wednesday a “shakeup” misses the point a bit, as the White House’s resting state is kinetic. In Trump’s 75 days in office, there has never been a sense that an org chart exists, or even that there is a shared understanding of what people are supposed to do. For the first 40 or so days, Steve Bannon did everything; for the last 30 or so days, Jared Kushner has done everything. By booting Bannon off the National Security Council on Wednesday, the White House made Bannon’s diminished status official—he is now above only Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, a circle of hell where the company is worse than the setting—and confirmed that national security adviser H.R. McMaster was getting his way on the National Security Council.
More broadly, the shift is a sign that the power of the nationalists inside the White House is waning—at least for now. Furthermore, it shows that the scheming and duplicitous Jared Kushner is perhaps even more scheming and duplicitous than we initially thought. Kushner and Bannon were wedded at the hip during the campaign, but Kushner reportedly played a hand in Bannon’s demotion. Here’s the Washington Post on the Count of Monte Kushner’s role in the drama:
In conversations Wednesday afternoon, several Trump associates described Bannon as overstretched, with multiple portfolios within the White House, and said the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been paying close attention to how to better use Bannon’s skills as the administration works to recover from a rocky and dramatic first few months.
That Kushner, who is currently tasked with forging peace in the Middle East, bringing prosperity to America, and creating a microwave that doesn’t make pizza all soggy when you reheat it, described Bannon as overstretched is both rich and patronizing, which not coincidentally are Kushner’s principal characteristics. It also reportedly didn’t help that the whole “President Bannon” meme irked Trump, as everyone predicted it would. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that “Bannon’s Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing’s only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda—and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the ‘President Bannon’ puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows, and Twitter.”
This is funny! But it seems like a stretch to say that it played a major role in Bannon’s demotion, given that the President Bannon meme mostly ran out of steam two months ago. (That said, Trump is certainly one to hold a grudge and to wait until the right moment to act on it.)
Just as notable were Bannon’s half-assed attempts at spinning his fall. Bannon claimed that he was only on the council to “babysit” Michael Flynn, whom the administration did not trust. If this is true, it is a colossal self-own—as it suggests that the White House did not trust its own national security adviser. But it’s clearly not true because a few hours later it was reported that Bannon threatened to quit over his demotion. “If my talents aren’t needed here, I can take them somewhere else,” Bannon reportedly told his benefactor, rich crazy person Rebekah Mercer. Mercer, who has stuck with Bannon for a while now, urged him to stay at the White House, where he will presumably spend his free time plotting an elaborate, Scott Tenerman-style revenge on Jared Kushner.