You’ve got to love an inevitability. Ever since the media began to seize on the “President Steve Bannon” jokes, the writing has been on the wall for the embattled politico. His countdown wasn’t helped by the rise and fall of Anthony Scaramucci, who took advantage of his tiny tenure to fire shots across Bannon’s bow. Nor was it helped by the installing of new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who purged Scaramucci for his self-described immunity to supervision.
Nothing says death knell, however, like classic Trump paranoia.
Having gotten it into his head that Bannon was the source of White House leaks, the Orange One was quick to summon the vultures over his strategist’s head. Bannon claims he tendered his resignation at the start of the month, but it’s pretty clear from acrimonious comments linked to both sides of this dismissal that it was anything but clean. Trump fired Bannon for the same reasons Trump does anything: narcissism and paranoia.
As one does.
In doing so, Trump has produced a new critic to his right, as well as fueled conservative speculation that the White House will be abandoning some of the populist rhetoric essential to their support of Trump – rhetoric developed and deployed by Bannon, curated from his whiteboard in the White House office he infested. The Bannon Backlash has already begun, and it’s not likely to go away. At best, it’ll become a muted spectre lurking over Trump’s head, as Breitbart’s ousted chief reclaims his own bully pulpit and aims its “weapons” at his former boss.
Bannon could not be any clearer in his opinion of his firing: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.” he said in an interview. Bannon’s faction on the right has been revitalized by his sacking, and the rhetoric centers on “war” and “weapons” and “fighting” to a degree that cannot be coincidental in the wake of Charlottesville. The message seems to be that an administration elected on the principles (and lack thereof) of Steve Bannon must be held to account to stand by those principles, and damn anyone who disagrees.
It’s worth noting, of course, that Trump doesn’t necessarily disagree with Bannon’s discriminatory nationalist rhetoric – what got Bannon in trouble was the public perception that he wanted to get more credit from his blowhard boss than Trump would ever cede, and hold more power in the administration than Trump would like to give. Bannon infamously got himself appointed to the National Security Council, supposedly by plunking the order on Trump’s desk and having the clueless commander-in-chief sign it without bothering to read how much authority he’d just invested in his chief strategist. Bannon’s desire to take credit for Trump’s electoral victory also clashed with his former boss’s favorite personal narrative.
Where we go now is anyone’s guess; the Trump White House was warned by its conservative base that figures such as Bannon and Kellyanne Conway are essential to the success of his (and their) agenda, but constant clashes with Trump’s family and members of the “globalist” right in the administration pitted pieces of that voter base against one another. Those wounds won’t heal from the expulsion of Bannon. The Breitbart chief, however, having newly returned to his post, has professed loyalty “from the outside” and declared he will fight on behalf of Trump’s policy goals. Left unsaid is that he’ll almost certainly do so only as long as those goals align with Bannon’s personal ideology.
In either event, while the instability at the White House is never reassuring, one can’t feel too concerned that this so-called strategist has been removed from his access to important documents and matters of state. It’s a shame Steve Bannon didn’t suffer a more precipitous fall from grace, but who knows? Perhaps the increasingly naked division on the political right will pay dividends in 2018 and beyond. One has to wonder how many times the snake can bite its own tail before dying from the poison.