At the end of the day, Trump is right. He created Trumpism, not Steve Bannon. Bannon came into the campaign late when the broad contours and themes were already in place. Bannon played a huge role in the final months. Bannon had been advising Trump for years before he joined his campaign. It was from the Breitbart, antic and alt-rightish wing of the GOP that Trump drew his strength.
But here’s something interesting to note. When Trump unloaded on Bannon the biggest cheers came from people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. In a sense, in casting Bannon to the wolves, Trump cozied up to Bannon’s biggest enemies: establishment Republicans on Capitol Hill. That comes after Trump’s tax law victory which was a pretty open and total embrace of the same people.
We shouldn’t look at this as a ‘betrayal’ of Trump’s ‘populist’ message. It’s more an example of how close the GOP and Trumpism were by late 2015 and how much more closely Trump has welded them together since. Trump’s ‘populism’ was fundamentally racist and xenophobic in nature. On that front and on the more general front of breaking things, Trump’s delivered.
It’s also clear that there are a lot of people who hate Bannon even among the more raucous and wild Trump lieutenants.
But the internal dynamics of the GOP turn heavily on a perpetual drama of rightist insurgency and establishment betrayal. That was the opening that Trump exploited to become nominee and it’s one he’s continued to press since becoming President. In short, whether Trump’s absorbs the establishment’s agenda or the establishment fully absorbs his, Trump needs a feckless GOP establishment to pivot and define himself against. In the event, they’re not that far apart in policy terms. What we’ve seen pretty clearly is that Bannon can’t take ‘his’ supporters with them. When Trump turned on Bannon, basically all the high profile Trumpers turned on Bannon with a vengeance.
So maybe Bannon is through. But if Trump stays married to GOP ‘establishment’ figures, he himself becomes vulnerable to the establishment betrayal narrative which has been used against all of these guys. All of which leads me to think that Bannon may not really be through in the Trump world. No one pairs more clearly with Bannon’s racist nationalism or characterological recklessness than Trump. And vice versa. Trump may be done with this Bannon. But he clearly needs a Bannon type figure to drive his necessary and permanent war on the ‘establishment.’