Bannon Exit Won’t End White House Chaos That Comes From the TopBy
Trump ouster of top advisor doesn’t fix penchant for disorder
Aide returns to Breitbart News promising war on Trump enemies
Stephen Bannon’s ouster rids the White House of someone who fed off chaos, obsessed over his own image, and sowed conflict among top aides to the president.
The problem is that many of Bannon’s most-damaging traits were merely an amplification of the man who continues to sit in the Oval Office.
Thirty weeks into his presidency, President Donald Trump has made clear that he’s unwilling or unable to abandon a management approach that pits staff against one another, openly antagonizes outside allies, and leaves little room for the painstaking work of governance.
In any other White House, Bannon’s departure as chief strategist on Friday would serve as a reset for the administration following a disastrous week dominated by the president’s combative insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It’s the boldest stroke in Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempt to impose order on a White House divided into warring camps. And it would appear to give a boost to those within the White House who opposed Bannon’s hard-line anti-trade instincts, military isolationism, and hostility to the federal bureaucracy.
Trump commented on Bannon’s departure for the first time in a tweet early Saturday: “I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton - it was great! Thanks S.”
But Bannon, 63, will now take his battle to the outside -- where the president and his advisers will have no control over his message. Bannon has ample access to funding through his close relationships with conservative billionaire Bob Mercer and other major Republican donors.
Kurt Bardella, a Republican communications specialist who worked for Bannon at Breitbart but later denounced him, predicted the strategist would “feel liberated” by his departure.
“Now, he 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,” Bardella said.
Speaking in an interview with Bloomberg shortly after his departure, Bannon vowed to do just that.
“If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents -- on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” said Bannon, who returned to the job he left to join Trump’s campaign, executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News.
The same crisis that accelerated Bannon’s ouster also underscores why the reset is unlikely to be more than symbolic: the man at the top.
To his own detriment, the president resisted an unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists violence in Charlottesville a week ago, a position cheered on by Bannon.
The episode was an authentic representation of Trump. The president has made clear he’s naturally inclined to stake out politically incorrect positions and serially unwilling to apologize for missteps. His electoral victory despite a string of controversies that would have felled nearly any other politician has left Trump, 71, with the impression he’s unlikely to pay any political cost for stoking outrage.
He’s been unable, though, to replicate his surprise electoral success in Washington, where the lawmakers and establishment interests he enjoys alienating control important levers of power. There’s little about Bannon’s departure that will help pass an Obamacare repeal, a tax overhaul, or a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
The strategist’s exit won’t repair relationships frayed by caustic attacks, a reflex on display again this week as Trump launched public tirades against corporate chief executives and Republican senators who dared to criticize him. Nor will Bannon’s departure convince lawmakers to support the agenda of a president with historically low poll ratings.
In fact, the ouster severs a conduit to his populist base.
Bannon’s departure is also unlikely to satisfy critics who still want Trump to show remorse for his remarks. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Friday that while the firing was “welcome news” that it “doesn’t disguise where President Trump himself stands on white supremacists and the bigoted beliefs they advance.”
Even Bannon’s departure was motivated in part with the president’s frustration that his aide was often depicted as a Svengali strategist in press accounts and on Saturday Night Live, betraying Trump’s intense fascination with his own media portrayal.
Others in the administration cautioned that the move could weaken the president’s ability to translate his ideas into policy.
Bannon was the administration’s most effective advocate for delivering on the Trump campaign agenda, said one White House official opposed to the move who requested anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. The official predicted Bannon’s removal would isolate Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser who’s best known for his efforts to curtail immigration, and would leave the president vulnerable to so-called “globalists” who promote policies that could alienate elements of the president’s conservative base.
“Trump’s voters may get upset that America’s not being made great again,” said former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg. “We’ll find out.”
— With assistance by Joshua Green, and Margaret Talev