Steve Bannon rode President Trump to the top of the political mountain — and Trump just tossed him off the edge into thin air.
In four brutal paragraphs attributed to the president himself, the White House eviscerated its former chief strategist with a vitriol unusual even for Trump.
The full statement is worth reading and rereading — it’s copied in full at the end of this post. But the gist is that Bannon is a mentally unstable, selfish, destructive bit player in Trumpland. It dismisses Bannon’s claim to have masterminded Trump’s 2016 victory (vastly understating his role on the campaign even as it correctly knocks down his self-aggrandizement), and erases much of the reflective power that Bannon still held from his stint as a top Trump campaign adviser and his White House chief strategist.
Bannon had settled back in at his Breitbart media empire after being forced out of the White House late last summer, and was using that website, nascent efforts at a super-PAC funded by the billionaire Mercer family, and a direct line to Trump to keep his reflected glory glowing bright.
Trump stuck by Bannon even after he was fired last summer, refusing to distance himself from his website’s alt-right views. But enough was apparently enough after Bannon reportedly accused Donald Trump Jr. of being “treasonous” for setting up a meeting with a Russian envoy during the campaign, according to excerpts from a new book published Wednesday.
Bannon had helped Roy Moore win the Alabama Senate GOP primary, though his impact in that race has been seriously overstated, and the blame establishment Republicans piled on him for Moore’s general election loss has been overdone as well. He had grand, if completely unrealistic, plans to force primary challenges against almost every sitting GOP senator next year. But without the Trump brand and support from others in his orbit it’s unclear whether he’ll even be able to maintain the snake-oil sales he’d been conjuring up until now.
The level at which Breitbart and Bannon depend on Trump was displayed in the site’s awkward handling of the president’s attacks on its leader. The site initially ignored Bannon’s reported comments — but finally posted both Trump’s attacks and Bannon’s alleged comments in un-bylined stories that led the website Wednesday afternoon.
Bannon may survive this yet.
The way the statement is written it sounds a lot more like it was crafted by an aide than by Trump himself, leaving the chance that the president doesn’t stick by his staff’s attempt to freeze out Bannon. And even without Trump, if Bannon can stay in the good graces of his Mercer moneymen he’ll be able to keep funding his pet projects and making the money that helped buy his Capitol Hill mansion.
We’ve seen Trump furiously dump other aides in the past only to bring them back — former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and campaign aide David Bossie have very much returned to his good graces these days, and Jeff Sessions is still attorney general in spite of Trump’s fury. The worse things get for Trump, the more likely he’ll seek outside advice — and may turn back to Bannon.
“Trump is like a child. He has a favorite toy, he gets bored with it and puts it on the shelf, and eventually he goes back to playing with it,” Kurt Bardella, a former GOP consultant and spokesman for Breitbart who has left the party and disavowed his old employer, told TPM. “What we saw today was Trump having a tantrum. If he’ll stick to this in the long run, history tells us he probably won’t.”
Bardella also argued that even if the schism holds, Bannon may outlast Trump and his damaged presidency.
“Either Bannon will have successfully put himself on an island all by himself with no allies no fooling and no support and this is the beginning of the end, or the Trump presidency will face a large degree of political and legal scrutiny that’ll be the beginning of the end and he’ll outlast them,” he said.
But if Bannon’s exile holds, it’s unclear if he can recover.
Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart transformed from a catch-all for a trollish, rabble-rousing home for conservatives of many stripes into a weaponized news site aimed at boosting Trump and a home for the racist alt-right. When Lewandowski allegedly assaulted one of Breitbart’s own reporters, it was that reporter who lost her job — not Lewandowski.
Many of the website’s readers have their first loyalty to Trump these days, not Bannon. With this schism opening up wide, it’s hard to see who will be left to read it — or whether his benefactors will keep funding Bannon’s projects. That had the president’s own son gloating in the wake of Bannon’s brutalization.
Wow, Just looked at the comments section on Breitbart. Wow. When Bannon has lost Breitbart, he’s left with . . . umm, nothing.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 3, 2018
Trump’s full statement:
Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.
Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.