The media has been doing everything in its power to eliminate one of the major anchors of Donald Trump’s political revolution. In many ways, Bannon is the glue that holds together the ideological and practical sides of the Trump administration. Losing him would be an enormous blow to the original goals of so many supporters.
Reports that Trump is distancing himself from Bannon has prompted an almost audible cheer from the press corps. In recent weeks, officials have said Kushner has taken on a larger role as Trump's main troubleshooter. Earlier this month, Trump decided to remove Bannon from the National Security Council, which White House officials said was not a sign of a diminished role for the controversial chief political strategist.
A senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Bannon only attended one meeting of the council and was originally given the post as a check on former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
However, in an interview with Fox News, Vice President Mike Pence said the move was not a demotion for Bannon, but instead, he termed it as a natural evolution to ensure the National Security Council is organized in a way that best serves the president in resolving and making those difficult decisions.
Plenty of President Trump’s supporters thought the White House’s polarizing chief strategist was done for after he was kicked from his unusual spot on the National Security Council’s principals committee. Matters got worse after the president publicly rebuked Bannon for fighting an ideological battle against senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, in a feud that was prosecuted by both sides through leaks to the press. Meanwhile, Kushner and economic adviser Gary Cohn, a former Democrat and Goldman Sachs executive who is despised by Trump’s base, appeared to gain influence for their more traditional GOP positions as the president modified several positions on business, trade and foreign policy.
The Grassroots conservatives expressed alarm when media reports suggested a West Wing shakeup was in the works, with Bannon among the casualties. The president has fallen back on the economic nationalism that’s central to Bannon’s worldview. One GOP operative with close ties to the White House said that Steve was benched, and it got his attention and he realized he had to step up and show the president how valuable he is.
By keeping up a blistering pace punctuated by executive orders and tough talk, Trump appears to have recommitted himself to the nationalist-populist themes he rode into office when Bannon acted as his campaign chairman. Trump visited a manufacturing plant in Kenosha, Wis., last week to sign an executive order aimed at overhauling the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers, a favorite tool of tech companies.
The potential for more trade disruption ramped up further when figures in the White House, including Bannon, drafted an executive order that would withdraw the U.S. from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has since said he’d rather renegotiate NAFTA than withdraw from it entirely.
However, it was further evidence that Bannon’s economic nationalism would continue to be a driving force inside Trump’s White House. Such actions have calmed the fears of conservatives who worried that the president was more concerned with appeasing Washington insiders than fulfilling campaign promises. Bannon’s allies acknowledge that some of his setbacks have been self-inflicted. They say that while Bannon brings ideas and vision, he is not a very good political operative or strategic thinker when it comes to maximizing his influence. Bannon has been accused by some in the White House of talking too much to reporters. His allies say he should have known better than to take on a Trump family member in his feud with Kushner, which played out in the press.
And they say Bannon has been slow to accumulate influential allies inside the White House, while others, like the chief of staff Reince Priebus, have surrounded themselves with loyalists.
Bannon needs people around him to implement his ideas, he’s a genius at understanding what needs to be done but not great at the technicalities of it. Kushner could help him with that, and contrary to what people think, those two are largely on the same page.