Washington is abuzz with the latest reports of palace intrigue within President Donald Trump's inner circle but there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is actually transpiring. Rather than Trump pivoting between two diametrically opposed groups of advisors — the "America First" camp of economic nationalism led by White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon and the "Family First" camp of economic pragmatism helmed by presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner — he is, in fact, oscillating among no less than four distinct clans. This is not Mr. Trump Goes to Washington; it is Game of Thrones.
The faction currently ascending is Kushner's. After a series of stream-of-consciousness remarks from Trump last week that belied reversals on a broad range of policies from NATO to China to the Fed, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who was brought into the administration by Kushner over the objections of Bannon and others, supposedly has supplanted Bannon as Trump's new "hand of the king." However, just like in the television show "Game of Thrones," the lifespan of a hand is not much longer than that of a fruit fly.
Cohn's top two priorities are tax reform and infrastructure investment, both with the aim of promoting economic growth. Besides internal discord between Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over who gets to lead the White House tax reform effort, Cohn's biggest risk is his noble, but naive, bipartisan approach. While tax reform remains doable — unlike a massive infrastructure initiative — a bipartisan tax deal is a bridge too far. Tax reform's success will be wholly dependent on achieving a level of GOP cohesion that Capitol Hill leaders failed to attain during last month's health-care debacle.
Kushner himself has had few material accomplishments to date, but a noteworthy one was orchestrating the easing of U.S.-China tensions by arranging the successful summit between his father-in-law and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Chinese, however, also deserve some of the credit in this instance. Out of concern for the aggressive and confrontational America First policies, Xi shrewdly moved quickly to outflank Bannon by developing direct relationships with Kushner and Ivanka Trump, countering the America First agenda with his own Family First strategy.