Throughout Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, reports of rival factions and internecine conflicts have dogged the candidate. There were the old-timers—the Corey Lewandowskis and the Hope Hickses—who took the idea from what was largely a publicity stunt to one that actually started winning key Republican primaries toppling G.O.P. favorites like dominos. There were the new guns, too—Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Bannon—who came in just as the campaign was careening off a cliff and managed to pull off a victory in November. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was in the mix, too, excising Chris Christie, who locked up his own father more than a decade ago, first from the short list of vice presidential candidates and then from his perch atop the transition team.
The in-fighting only deepened after the election, as Trump’s allies jockeyed for key roles within the administration. And as the president-elect finalizes his appointments and fills out his West Wing, it appears as though he hasn’t made choices that will bring peace to these warring factions once they officially move to Washington.
One of the divides within the new administration is along that same “new” verses “old” fault line. Trump named Hicks, who handled a barrage of media requests throughout the campaign, and his social media advisor Dan Scavino to similar posts within his communications team in the White House. According to Politico, other longtime aides are concerned that they are being put on ice while newer flavors of the month catch Trump’s attention. Lewandowski, for one, is starting a lobbying shop instead of getting a gig at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Another rift appears to be with members of the Republican establishment, like chief of staff Reince Priebus and newly-named press secretary Sean Spicer, and Bannon, who is credited with fueling the populist, drain the swamp movement that helped spur Trump to victory. Adding Conway as his counselor, in line with Priebus and Bannon in stature, means that there are now three competing visions for America competing for Trump’s ear all the way at the top.
It doesn’t help matters that Goldman Sachs president and C.O.O. Gary Cohn, who was tapped to head the National Economic Council earlier this month, is reportedly rising within the ranks, either. According to New York Magazine, Cohn has become an “influential voice” within Trump Tower and now enjoys “walk-in” privileges with the president elect, allowing him to show up to bend Trump’s ear when he right well feels like it.
This, New York reports, is not sitting well with both the G.O.P. establishment and the populist wing within Team Trump. Cohn, who has supported both Republicans and Democrats with all his Goldman money, is viewed as not conservative enough. And as one of the highest-ranking officials at one of the most offending institutions, the Trump faction intent of draining the swamp lights up when he comes around. (The “vampire squid” is exactly the kind of swamp creature they want to expunge, or say they do, anyway). Insiders told the magazine that should Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee, not work out in his role as chief of staff, Cohn could step into his shoes.
And then there is Kushner, slightly removed from the muck, elevated by his family ties and blind loyalty, though his relationship with Cohn and Conway offers them a valuable shield as the battles ensue.
It is not a bad thing to have conflicting view points within the administration, especially when some of the views are as extreme as they appeared to be in the run-up. But there is a fine line between a “team of rivals” and plain old rivals, and office sabotage in the White House has consequences that reach well beyond typical break-room squabbles. There is enough for the president elect to figure out, enough fires to put out, without having to manage insecurities among his staff. There is really only room for one ego in the Oval Office, and in this particular administration, that ego doesn’t tend to tolerate other egos very well. Priebus can cross Bannon, Bannon can cross Cohn, Conway can cross them all. But if all that criss-crossing cuts off their boss, it is hard to imagine they will make it out of this war alive.