Confirming earlier reports from Matt Drudge and the NYT, on Friday afternoon the White House confirmed that Trump decided to push out his chief strategist, and the man who according to many got him elected, Stephen Bannon.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” the White House said in an emailed statement.
And so, Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, the “nationalist firebrand” who helped to fuel Donald Trump’s dizzying rise to the presidency, is leaving the administration.
Before Bannon, Trump already fired two other aides who helped him win the White House — Reince Priebus and Michael Flynn — but the departure of Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, is perhaps the most significant change yet.
Reporting on the departure, the NYT says that Trump has decided to remove Bannon, and he and top aides “were debating when and how to dismiss” the strategist. Ultimately, Bannon was fired, although there was some confusion: “A person close to Bannon” said the chief strategist first decided to leave, according to the Times, having submitted his resignation on August 7, but the announcement was delayed after violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, the newspaper reported.
Trump hinted that Bannon was on his way out on Tuesday, when during a press conference he was asked by a reporter if he still had confidence in his chief strategist: “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Trump responded, adding that while he believes he is a “good person,” Bannon “came on very late” to the campaign.
On Friday, Bannon did not attend a national security meeting on Afghanistan with Trump at Camp David Friday, even though he had been involved in the debate over troop levels. Increasingly isolated by the “Goldman” wing, Bannon had few allies left in the White House following the departure of Priebus as chief of staff. The two men had formed a strategic partnership out of political convenience but had become genuine allies.
His departure could be another sign that new chief of staff John Kelly has broad authority to clean house in a West Wing that has been hobbled by infighting and leaks.
Bannon’s worldview is at odds with many of Trump’s senior aides, and he clashed with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Their feuds would often spill into the press, exacerbating tensions in the White House. And with Priebus gone, Bannon was at the mercy of Kelly, a retired Marine general who has been running a tight ship and is eager to rid the White House of drama.
Additionally, Bannon became a political liability in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, when Democrats cast Bannon, who once described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right,” as one of the “racists in the White House.” Pressure had been growing on Trump to cut ties with his nationalist wing, which also includes advisers Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller. Even some Republicans called for Bannon to go, calling him a divisive figure who had muddied the president’s authority on international issues
As the Post writes, while Bannon had been on the outs with Trump before, the president suspected Bannon was one of the main leakers in the administration, trashing his colleagues in the press.
The notoriously thin-skinned president also resented the publicity Bannon had been getting as the supposed mastermind of Trump’s campaign and upset victory. One White House source told Axios, “His departure may seem turbulent in the media, but inside it will be very smooth. He has no projects or responsibilities to hand off.”
Bannon in recent days gave interviews to publications including the New York Times in which he defended Trump’s controversial comments in the wake of the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
The biggest risk for Trump is that Bannon is the biggest conduit to Trump’s conservative base. His departure could and likely will provoke a backlash among Trump’s core supporters, who are fearful that the president is now being advised by liberals and who they refer to as “globalists,” like Cohn, Kushner, and McMaster.
Breitbart News has been hammering McMaster in particular, who in recent weeks successfully rid the National Security Council of several of Bannon’s allies, according to the Hill.
Steve’s allies in the populist nationalist movement are ready to ride to the gates of hell with him against the West Wing Democrats and globalists like [national security aide] Dina Powell, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster,” said one Bannon ally.
“They should all be very worried that they’re efforts to undermine the president will be exposed. If they think what’s happened with Steve is rough, wait until they see what he does outside the White House.”
Speaking to the Post, a source close to Bannon added:
This week is a good window into what Bannon outside the [White House] would look like: A strong defense of POTUS and ‘fire and fury’ for enemies of the Trump agenda. Get ready for Bannon the barbarian.”
Top photo: Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon steps off Air Force One as he arrives, April 9, 2017, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP/Alex Brandon)
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