After months of controversy, Steve Bannon – the President’s chief strategist, former head of Breitbart, and one of the most controversial figures in American politics – has been fired. CNN Opinion’s Jane Carr spoke with Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart executive, about Bannon’s ouster and what comes next for the White House. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
CNN: Did Steve Bannon’s ouster surprise you?
Kurt Bardella: No. I thought Steve’s participation with Josh Green’s book, which gave Steve co-billing and co-credit for Trump’s victory, was probably the last nail in the coffin. He was already on thin ice after being on the cover of Time magazine (in February). It’s kind of just knowing your own boss. Trump is narcissistic. It has to be all about him. So when he sees anybody trying to get credit, that’s the quickest way to get in his doghouse.
CNN: Is this the moment that we see Steve Bannon unleashed?
Bardella: Yes. I think that if anything, Steve feels liberated at this second. He is not wired to be someone who works at the pleasure of anybody else. He’s used to being the boss. I’ve said before that he ran Breitbart like a dictatorship. That’s how he governs. I imagine he felt very limited having to work inside the White House. He’s not a collaborator, he’s a dictator. And I think that now that he has been removed or removed himself from working inside the White House, his true self can now come out to play all day, every day.
CNN: How fundamental do you think he really was – or will be in his absence – to President Trump’s agenda?
Bardella: That’s a question of what came first – the Trump that we know now, or Steve. Did Steve make Trump into who he is, or was Trump always there? I feel that it’s probably a little bit of both. When you look at the things that Trump talks about, whether it’s the border wall, whether it’s his social views on the role of white supremacists and racism, the media – those are all things that are Donald Trump. Donald Trump said all those things, did all those things without Steve Bannon. I imagine that some of those will remain unchanged. I think there will be less drama with the internal White House staff, but that won’t resolve the larger issues, which really stem and originate from Donald Trump. It’s still Donald Trump tweeting at all hours of the night and all day, calling out individual senators in his own party and attacking them, going after Mitch McConnell. Those are all things Trump did voluntarily, and those are the real challenges his administration has with trying to achieve anything.
CNN: What did you think of the #WAR tweet, which a Breitbart editor sent out after the news that Bannon had been fired?
Bardella: That’s exactly what I thought would happen, that Steve would return to the fold – which he never really ever left. They (Breitbart) are going to go to war and they are going to go to war against what they believe are the West Wing globalists who have hijacked the presidency. They’re going to channel their audience to use that to explain why they’re going to pivot away from Trump. They’re going to make the case to their audience that “the Trump that you knew and elected has been hijacked by these West Wing globalists, these New Yorkers – Jared, Ivanka, Donald Jr., Gary Cohn, Wall Street executives – he’s been co-opted.” They’re going to put the blame there. They’re going to go to war against those that are left in the White House.
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CNN: So war against the White House is what’s next?
Bardella: I think three things are going to happen. One, they’re going to go to war against the White House. Not President Trump necessarily, but the White House. Two, they’re going to go to war against Republican leadership in Congress, against Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Three, I believe that Steve is going to want to show the President that there is some pain when you lose him. I think that all of a sudden, you might see some more stories about the Russia investigation on the pages of Breitbart. It would also not surprise me if they (Breitbart) started trying to recruit another figurehead for their message. There’s a very close relationship that exists between Breitbart and Jeff Sessions. I think that’s worth keeping an eye on.