Steve Bannon May Be The Next Contestant Eliminated On ‘Presidential Apprentice’

Steve Bannon of Breitbart

The New York Times reports that former Breitbart CEO Steven K. Bannon is once again on the outs with Donald Trump as White House officials and outside advisers push for his firing amid a nationwide awakening to the dangers of violent white supremacy.

“Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him,” Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush say. “Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office.”

The report has been confirmed by CBS News, where Major Garrett says “that Bannon has never been in more jeopardy, and one well-placed source said he could be gone by the end of this week.”

Some of Bannon’s wounds are self-inflicted consequences of his abrasive style. For instance, he seems to be on the losing end of his feud with National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, who has allies in Defense Secretary James Mattis and new chief of staff John Kelly.

Bannon never expected to last very long in the administration, and Trump’s annoyance at depictions of “President Bannon” playing White House mastermind first led to reports of a rift in February. Bannon survived that low point, outlasting his rival Reince Priebus and diminishing his nemesis Jared Kushner with leaks.

In recent days, however, many of the president’s friends have renewed their campaign against Bannon, whose relationship with Trump is “fraying daily.” They argue for shedding a toxic image of bigotry and extremism by distancing the White House from its best known avatar of “alt-right” ideology.

Media scrutiny of Bannon’s role in shaping the Trump administration’s white nationalist agenda has fed growing public desire to see him fired. Trump critics have come to focus on Bannon, believing him to be vulnerable. A #FireBannon hashtag had already trended more than once on Twitter during the days just before an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent, shaking a weary nation to the core and drawing attention to Trump’s winking relationship to the Steve Bannon wing of the conservative coalition.

There may be other reasons for Trump to want Bannon out. He has courted legal trouble by playing fast and loose with ethics laws to bring trusted hacks into the White House, for example. There is also an unconfirmed report that a federal grand jury has heard testimony that could lead to obstruction of justice charges against Bannon.

Yet personal rivalry seems to be the best explanation for Bannon’s decline. The recent publication of Devil’s Bargain, a book by Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green that credits Bannon with making Trump president, has reportedly rekindled the reality show star’s resentment at being upstaged.

Trump friend Anthony Scaramucci accused Bannon of advancing himself at the president’s expense in graphic terms during his brief sojourn as White House communications director. He told Stephen Colbert last night that he would still like to see Bannon fired so that Trump can have a clean slate. “He’s got to move more into the mainstream,” Scaramucci said.

So far, Trump has refused to fire Bannon due to “his dislike of confrontation, the bonds of a foxhole friendship forged during the 2016 presidential campaign and concerns about what mischief Mr. Bannon might do once he leaves the protective custody of the West Wing,” the Times reports.

Not least, Mr. Bannon embodies the defiant populism at the core of the president’s agenda. Despite being marginalized, Mr. Bannon consulted with the president repeatedly over the weekend as Mr. Trump struggled to respond to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. In general, Mr. Bannon has cautioned the president not to criticize far-right activists too severely for fear of antagonizing a small but energetic part of his base.

Of course, that “small but energetic part of his base” is largely guided by the alt-right websites which take their cues from Bannon. If they were to turn on Trump, it’s not clear that he could find a new source of electoral support to replace them. His inability to apologize for anything will limit his ability to win back anyone he has offended. The influencers that might replace Bannon are Manhattanite financiers, not populist organizing heroes.

Until now, Trump has believed he could hang on to power by keeping a grip on his electoral base, even if a large majority of Americans disapprove of him. As long as the Republican grassroots were enthusiastic about Trump, GOP lawmakers were terrified of the potential backlash for opposing him. Bannon has been a primary proponent of this theory. But that narrow polling edge is slowly eroding, and it may now crumble altogether along with Bannon’s White House job.

Hanging from a popularity cliff, Trump faces a tough choice: hold on to Bannon for dear life, or let go to reach for another handhold that is even less sure.

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Featured image via Don Irvine Flickr under Creative Commons license

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