Almost a year to the day after putting the CEO of Breitbart News in charge of his campaign strategy, Donald Trump has pushed Stephen K. Bannon out of the White House door.
The move follows weeks of reports that Bannon was being cut out of decision-making and losing his power struggle with retired Gen. John F. Kelly, the president’s new chief of staff. But his departure is not necessarily good news for America.
Bannon used his sojourn at the center of power to lobby for the white nationalist agenda he had developed at Breitbart. Knowledgeable observers say that Bannon will now return to the website, which he transformed into “the platform of the alt-right,” and his projects with the family of billionaire hedge funder Robert Mercer, with an eye towards pushing that agenda from the outside again.
Indeed, the New York Times reports that Bannon had dinner with Mercer on Wednesday night and has been telling allies he expects to be back at Breitbart soon.
Late in the afternoon, Breitbart White House reporter Charlie Spiering confirmed that Bannon had already returned to take charge of an editorial meeting.
It’s not even clear that Bannon ever really left Breitbart News. Trump gave him a special ethics waiver regarding contacts with the website in June; Bannon is still listed as the Executive Chairman and only board member.
While running the site in the wake of its founder’s death, Bannon connected its editorial and news departments directly with right wing grassroots causes. Through outside pressure and unified messaging, this “Groundswell” project yielded many fruits, such as congressional investigations into the IRS targeting “scandal,” Hillary Clinton’s email server, and the Benghazi attacks.
It will be interesting to see how Trump, who rode to the White House on Breitbart’s brand of politics, will hold up when that propaganda firehose gets turned on his administration.
“Bannon vs. Trump is going to be amazing,” former Breitbart editor-at-large and Bannon critic Ben Shapiro tweeted when he heard the news.
Kurt Bardella, another Breitbart alum who left the site in protest of Bannon’s management during the campaign, writes that Bannon “will be able to operate openly and freely to inflict as much damage as he possibly can on the ‘globalists’ that remain in the Trump administration.”
“He’s told associates he has a ‘killing machine’ in Breitbart News, and it’s possible he returns to lead their editorial operation,” writes Jonathan Swan of Axios, who warns that Washington editor Matthew Boyle will spearhead Bannon’s “thermonuclear” attacks on the “globalists” around Trump.
Invoking Andrew Breitbart’s battle cry, Breitbart editor Joel Pollack tweeted “#WAR” in response to the news that Bannon was leaving the administration. During an appearance on Bloomberg later, Pollack placed responsibility for what happens next on the president.
“We remain as we’ve always been: the outlet that represents the movement and the ideas that brought Trump to office,” Pollack said. “Whether he remains on board with that agenda is now an open question” since Bannon is being pushed out.
A friend close to Bannon tells reporter Gabriel Sherman that “it’s now a Democrat White House” without him.
But “don’t assume that simply because Trump has fired Bannon as his chief White House strategist that their relationship is over,” Chris Cillizza warns. Instead, Bannon will want to leverage results from this president that satisfy the harsh demands of the reactionary political movement he built, and which lifted Trump to victory over the Republican establishment.
“Steve may from time to time call the president to account to his fealty or lack of fealty to the president’s agenda and that could get complicated politically,” an anonymous White House adviser tells the Washington Post. “But I don’t think Steve is going to totally abandon the president or be totally disloyal.”
In other words, expect Bannon to be an even bigger pain in the ass now that he’s on the outside looking in. And don’t expect Donald Trump to change for the better. For as he also showed us this week, the president came to the Breitbart political brand naturally. Nobody had to pull him towards it.
Steve Bannon has left his job as White House Chief Strategist and accepted a position at Breitbart as White House Chief Strategist
— Matt Oswalt (@MattOswaltVA) August 18, 2017
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