President Donald Trump dumped chief strategist Steve Bannon on Friday, ending weeks of speculation that just such a dismissal was in the works.
The decision will be met with jubilation within the Republican establishment, who viewed Bannon with a mixture of loathing (for his assaults on them as the head of Breitbart News) and fear (for his influence over Trump.)
That joy could well turn to ashes in their mouths. (Shouts to Tyrion Lannister!) Why? Because although Bannon won’t work in the White House any longer, his worldview and mindset have been adopted almost in toto by the one person whose opinion matters in this White House: Donald John Trump.
Bannon became a formal adviser to then-candidate Trump on August 17, 2016. But, his influence on Trump’s thinking far pre-dates that.
The two men met via conservative activist David Bossie in 2011 when Trump was mulling the possibility of running for president in 2012.
As far back as July 2015, Trump was tweeting favorably about Bannon – and Breitbart. “@BreitbartNews is much smarter than sleepy eyes @chucktodd @nbc http://t.co/Lb3PBlN3u0 Thanks to Steve Bannon & real reporters,” Trump tweeted on July 21, 2015. Five days earlier Trump tweeted out a praiseworthy Breitbart piece written by Bannon headlined “TIME TO GET TOUGH: Trump’s Blockbuster Policy Manifesto.”
Remember, too, that Trump has openly admitted he lacked any set policy views prior to his decision to run for president. He had been a Democrat and an independent before announcing that he would run for president in 2016 as a Republican. His entire interaction with politics had been transactional; he wanted to curry favor with politicians, so he gave them money. It was entirely un-ideological.
Breitbart – and Bannon in particular – gave Trump a policy architecture on which to frame his beliefs. That’s not to say that Bannon alone is responsible for Trumpism.
But it is to suggest there was a fated convergence between Bannon and Trump. At a time when Trump was looking for the words and policy proposals to shape his loosely-formed ideas, Bannon and Breitbart were there to supply them – by the ink barrel.
Bannon didn’t invent Trump. But he amplified him – bigly.
- Trump’s suspicion of globalism – as evidenced by his decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accords – is a hallmark of Bannonism.
- Trump’s hard line on immigration – legal and illegal? A belief long voiced by Bannon and his fellow nationalists.
- Trump’s hatred for the media? That distrust for the mainstream media was the driving force for Andrew Breitbart’s decision to start a conservative news site with his name on it years ago. Here’s what Bannon said about the press earlier this year: “It’s going to get worse every day for the media. If you think [the press] are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.” He’s also called the press “the enemy” and “the opposition party.”
- Trump’s “both sides” defense of Charlottesville? Bannon has long insisted that the left is just as violent – if not more so – than the right. And he’s also shown a willingness to push the rhetorical boundaries on race. Following the controversy over Trump’s “both sides” remarks on Tuesday, Bannon told The New York Times: “Just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can’t get enough of it.”
If there is a connective tissue to the beliefs Trump has espoused in the White House, it’s a disdain for and rejection of political correctness. While that comports with Trump’s natural instincts – he has always viewed himself on the outside looking in, mocked by elites who won’t accept him – the full flowering of Trump’s nationalist-tinged populism can be traced directly back to Bannon.
Trump had the seeds. Bannon watered them and made sure they got enough sun. The full bloom Trump you’ve seen over the last week is because of what Bannon did over the past several years – inside and outside of Trump’s inner circle.
Speaking of Trump’s outer circle: Don’t assume that simply because Trump has fired Bannon as his chief White House strategist that their relationship is over. Trump is someone who loves to call on all sorts of people – inside and outside the White House – for advice. And, as Trump supporter and former Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston noted on CNN on Friday afternoon: “Trump and Bannon believe in the same things.”
Bannon may be gone from the White House. But his influence won’t be disappearing any time soon.