Infighting cools down in Trumpland

President Trump’s White House is making an effort to heal the wounds from the infighting and leaks that have dogged the administration over its first 100 days.

Trump appears to have brokered at least a temporary peace between son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser with a growing portfolio of responsibilities, and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News chief whose rough edges and nationalist vision were among the animating characteristics of Trump’s insurgent campaign.

People who have spoken with Bannon say he has given explicit orders to allies who may have been taking swipes at Kushner in the press to knock it off.


But the persistent internal warring and fears over what stories might appear in tomorrow’s newspapers have driven some administration officials to exhaustion. 

It has sometimes felt like top officials have been in an arms race to plant or kill stories in the press. Those who decline to participate in the sniping feel at risk of being thrown under the bus by their colleagues or described by the media as having diminished influence, according to officials interviewed by The Hill.

That kill-or-be-killed mentality has trickled down to junior staffers, who have increasingly joined the melee themselves.

Frustrations among White House officials over the back-and-forth in the media boiled over earlier this month, when palace intrigue stories dominated the news cycle on the same day that the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, overshadowing coverage of a major victory for the Trump administration.

The infighting has also split Trump’s supporters, who have increasingly bought into the idea of a power struggle between grassroots conservatives, led by Bannon, and the rising coalition of what they view as New York City “liberals”: Kushner, Ivanka Trump, economic adviser Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell.

Republicans interviewed by The Hill say the infighting and leaks have been extraordinary for their ferocity and persistence.

Trump’s allies say the infighting stands in the way of his success as president.

“We’ve all been shocked by the unprecedented level of leaking,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Trump is a businessman and likes the competition and flow of different ideas, but the secret is for his team to have a level of discipline and keep it in-house. When they don’t, it gives ammunition to the press and is bad for the president. Trump has cracked down on it and he was right to. People should shut up and do their jobs and get back on offense in a policy-oriented way. Palace intrigue is not going to grow the economy.”

It’s been a quiet few weeks on the intrigue front since Trump intervened in the feud between Bannon and Kushner.

The final days leading up to Trump’s 100th day in office represent a test for whether Trump’s team of rivals can put forth a united front going forward.

White House officials and Cabinet members will be out in force, making themselves available to local and national media outlets as they seek to sell Trump’s agenda and cast his first 100 days as a resounding success.

“I think we’ve gotten past all this,” said one GOP operative with close ties to the administration.

White House officials have been frustrated by the stories and insist the infighting is being overplayed by the media and in some cases made up entirely. 

“Way overblown,” one administration official told The Hill.

Other officials have recounted to The Hill how reporters call them to confirm salacious details. After the officials swear the items are untrue, they end up getting printed anyway.

“Palace intrigue sells papers and is click-bait,” White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said in a speech at Georgetown University on Monday. There, Gorka contended that most of the stories he reads about internal tension are totally false.

Still, the struggle for influence and backstabbing in the press is undeniable. 

Some of Trump’s allies say it’s a byproduct of the president’s preference for  “creative tension,” in which aides are expected to compete so the best ideas win out. 

“He likes hearing from everyone to get the broadest range of views he can get before deciding on something,” said Frank Cannon, the president of the conservative think tank American Principles Project. “But it’s better for the president when that conflict plays out internally, and I think he’s made that clear in recent weeks.”

The Bannon-Kushner feud was far from the administration’s first.

In the early days, rumors that Trump planned to fire chief of staff Reince Priebus beset the former Republican National Committee chairman.

Priebus’s allies believed those stories were fanned by former campaign aides and Bannon allies, who viewed Priebus as an establishment figure who was insufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign.

Priebus’s allies helped him beat back those stories, and Bannon and Priebus have since come to what appears to be a friendly alliance.

Now, some conservatives are alarmed by the rise of the Kushner-Cohn wing. Cohn, a former Democrat and Goldman Sachs executive, has drawn extra suspicion from Trump’s base.

Many conservatives worry that Cohn’s rise has come at the expense of Bannon, who was rumored to be on the way out after Trump removed him from the National Security Council’s principals committee.

“If Trump were to get rid of Bannon, there would be an explosion among the conservative grassroots,” Tea Party leader Debbie Dooley told The Hill in an interview last week.

That reading has frustrated mainstream conservatives, who are happy to see the president take counsel from a wide array of advisers, including Powell, the deputy national security adviser who has been tied to the Cohn-Kushner wing.

“It’s important for people to understand Dina Powell worked for [former House Majority Leader] Dick Armey [R-Texas] and George W. Bush,” said veteran GOP operative Charlie Black. “She’s no liberal.”

“I don’t know Gary Cohn. He’s from New York and like everyone there was a registered Democrat. But he’s a businessman and a problem-solver. People need to understand it was Trump’s message that won. Bannon wasn’t involved early on and Trump’s message didn’t change much along the way. Anyway, there’s no reason to think Trump doesn’t listen to all of these people.”

Conservatives say they’re watching closely for signs that the “liberal” wing is winning. They haven’t seen it yet. Trump’s message in recent weeks has focused heavily on manufacturing and creating American jobs, and he hasn’t wavered on trade, immigration, building the border wall or defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said Tea Party leader Mark Meckler.

“We are watching closely what the White House is actually doing,” Meckler said. “All the rest of this is just noise.”