Fire and Fury is a book written by “journalist” Michael Wolff and is a partially fictional account of the events that occurred in the first few months of the Donald Trump administration. This is the eleventh of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.
Within the first month or so of the administration, Jared and Ivanka felt under attack. Bannon was empowering the alt-right instincts of Trump and Jared felt little anti-semitic slights everywhere. Trump had grown up in New York under a very anti-semitic father, but that the same time courted the favor of tough-guy jews in the city’s elite. Kushner was at a disadvantage on both fronts. He wasn’t seen as tough in any way, so he couldn’t command Trump’s respect there, and he was at the mercy of the alt-right machinations of Bannon. Bannon seemed to encourage Trump’salt-right side and constantly reminded Trump that Kushner was weak.
Trump gave Kushner the portfolio of peace in the Middle East as a test to see if Kushner was tough enough to pull things together. Whenever Kushner asked Trump for input, he was told to talk to any one of Trump’s “tough guy” Jew friends (Sheldon Adelson, Ike Perlmutter, etc) who invariably aligned with Bannon thanks to similar alt-right views. What’s more, Kushner had never expressed a position on the whole Israel/Palestine issue before, so major Jewish organizations felt like he came out of nowhere and, prior to his assignment, was a general nobody on the issue.
Kushner knew he was being outmaneuvered, so he started pushing for people he could lean on to be nominated for positions. The first was Gary Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs. Cohn’s resume got him in over Bannon’s objections. He was Bannon’s opposite in almost every way. He was quiet where Bannon was loud and he read the room before making his feelings known whereas Bannon was trying to constantly push his agenda.
Dina Powell came in thanks to Ivanka. Powell was originally part of Goldman Sachs’ philanthropic arm and had acquired extensive contacts thanks to her endless networking. She felt it was risky to be associated with a Trump administration, but Kushner and Ivanka were able to convince her and Cohn that control of the White House was there for the taking. Bannon was working endlessly and the wear and tear was beginning to show. Kushner, Ivanka, Cohn and Powell made what seemed an easy calculation that the alt-right control of the White House would eat itself and the foursome would be able to gain control. Kushner was looking for a total reset to do things “the right way”
Kushner himself was undergoing a bit of a personality change. He was more of a fighter than his opponents gave him credit for, which is another reason why Cohn was able to be pushed in. Further, he was beginning to have delusions of grandeur. He seemed to believe that destiny had chosen him to be the man of the hour. That he really could bring peace in the Middle East. Bannon’s side ridiculed this behind his back, but it was empowering him to push his agenda. He just needed to get Bannon out of the way. This was getting easier thanks to the wear and tear Bannon was feeling. Kushner used this, plus the constant scuttlebutt that Bannon was the brains of the White House, to take control of Trump’s speech at the February 28 joint session of Congress.
Bannon thought the speech was too wishy-washy, but Ivanka had convinced Trump that if Bannon had any input, he would take credit for the whole thing. As a result, the Kushner-Ivanka team had control over the text and presentation. The speech went off without a hitch, convincing even naysayers that Trump had it in him to be presidential. Michael Wolff writes that the days after were the best time in Trump’s presidency. Everyone finally thought he deserved to be the President. The Kushner-Ivanka team was ascendent and the combative alt-right tendencies were being pushed aside. Bannon, however, understood that Trump would never be accepted.
I can’t believe this all happened two months into the presidency. This is like something out of a bad political comedy and really speaks to the complete inadequacy of everyone involved. Bannon is just too confrontational to run a government and Kushner and Ivanka are too clueless to really know what they’re doing. They were successful in this moment, but they don’t know how to navigate the Washington mine field and the scandals that came after just ripped all that control away from them. Not that the scandals were necessary to do that. Looking back on it now, it was clear they would never have been able to control Trump over the long term. He can’t even control himself.