In a display of intrigue worth of a season finale of Celebrity Apprentice, David Shulkin, Secretary of Veteran's Affairs in President Donald Trump's dysfunctional White House, is reportedly relying on a man who could be his chief rival: Marvel Entertainment Chairman Ike Perlmutter.
Shulkin, who also worked under President Obama's administration, has found himself at the center of an ethics scandal after allegedly misrepresenting a trip to Europe with his wife as government business in order to use taxpayer funds to pay for it. Inside the Trump White House, vulnerability is dangerous, opening Shulkin to attack by the factions constantly feuding for control in Trump's kingdom, even despite his relative success in the role, where Veterans Affairs reforms have garnered praise for the President.
Waiting in the wings, intentions unknown, is Perlmutter, one of Trump's closest confidants and biggest supporters. Perlmutter and his wife donated millions to Trump during and after the campaign. In 2016, the Perlmutters contributed 1/3 of the total funds collected by the Trump Foundation, Trump's "charity." Trump once referred to Perlmutter as "one of the great men of business," and he's relied on Ike's advice during his presidency too. In addition to dining with the president regularly at Mar-a-Lago and flying on Air Force One, Perlmutter been an official advisor on the subject of veterans' healthcare, a major component of the VA which Shulkin ran under President Obama. Trump famously gave Ike the pen he used to sign a major Veteran's health care bill.
In a way, buying Marvel Comics is essentially supporting Donald Trump, if you accept that Perlmutter, one of the largest individual shareholders of Disney and Chairman of Marvel, profits significantly from Marvel's success, and in turn uses some share of those profits to support Trump. This close relationship makes one wonder whether Perlmutter, who spent decades as a recluse, shunning publicity, but has willingly thrust himself in the public eye in order to stand by Trump, would be interested in taking a large role in the administration.
For now, it seems, Shulkin views Perlmutter not as a threat, but as a potential ally. A report from the Washington Post describes Shulkin's position, under siege from rival factions in the White House who want him removed. Desperate to stay in the President's good graces, according to the report, Shulkin flew last week to the President's Florida compound, Mar-a-Lago, for a meeting with Perlmutter. Though the pair discussed policy, the report claims that Shulkin also sought Perlmutter's support in his fight for political survival, as well as backing in purging his own enemies from the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
The report leaves unclear whether or not Shulkin received the support he hoped for. Even if he did, in the Trump White House, even allies must be on alert for treachery, an atmosphere Trump cultivated as a reality TV host and appears to have brought with him to the presidency. Judging by the turnover we've already seen in the administration, it seems implausible that anyone can stay in one job for long. Today, Ike Perlmutter could be David Shulkin's chief ally. Tomorrow, he could be his replacement, at which point the cycle will begin anew.