Steve Bannon Was Doomed
“I’m my own strategist,” the president told The New York Post early last week, and the message to Bannon couldn’t have been louder and clearer if it included a four-letter word.
Bannon is “a guy who works for me,” he said to The Wall Street Journal a day later, lumping the lumpy tactician together with the concierges at Trump Tower, the groundskeepers at Mar-a-Loco and the makers of the meatloaf in the White House kitchen.
Trump went so far as to suggest that he was barely acquainted with Bannon before August 2016, when Bannon joined his presidential campaign. Wrong. Trump had been a guest on the radio show that Bannon used to host nine times. But his rewrite of history was telling. Bannon needed to be erased because he was taking up too much space on the page.
Politics is a tricky business, Washington is a treacherous place and Trumplandia is downright brutal. In all three realms, you have to strike the right balance of self-promotion and self-effacement. The media’s no help: We love few archetypes better than that of the brilliant mastermind who’s the real power behind the throne. But the savviest operators find ways to resist that assignment, deflecting as much credit as they claim.
“It’s important to remember that you’re always a supporting actor, never the star,” David Axelrod, one of Barack Obama’s closest campaign and White House advisers, told me. “And depending on who the star is, it’s even more important. Donald Trump’s self-image doesn’t really allow for co-stars.”
George W. Bush’s self-image had slightly more allowance, but even so, nothing made Karl Rove’s stomach knot like the nickname — “Bush’s brain” — that a few journalists hung on him. It was both compliment and curse, and to interview him or any of Bush’s other top aides back in the day was to be pummeled with sentences that all started with the same subject, adjusted for whichever title Bush held at that point.
“The governor believes.” “The president-elect has decided.” “The president feels strongly.” Ask them for their opinion, and they’d tell you what he thought. That was the pecking order, which was reinforced by Bush’s own nickname for Rove: “Turd Blossom.”
Rove endured as one of Bush’s two or three pre-eminent advisers for about a decade, and his eventual diminution was largely a function of Bush’s waning popularity in the second term of his presidency, when Rove was moved from a corner suite in the West Wing to a windowless office across the hall.
Donald Regan, Ronald Reagan’s second chief of staff, was forced to resign after just two tumultuous years, partly because he’d lost sight of his place, infuriating the first lady. In her memoir, “My Turn,” Nancy Reagan complained that he “often acted as if he were the president.”
That behavior reflected the ease with which senior advisers “get caught up in feeling smarter and more powerful than the principal,” said one veteran Republican strategist, who added that the advisers who survive are able to reject or mask that grandiose sense of self.
Bannon is an amateur masker. While he didn’t give Time any quotes for its “manipulator” story and the photograph of him on the cover had been shot for a different reason three months earlier, he has spent plenty of time talking off the record with political reporters, too little of it actively tamping down his legend.
He wasn’t vigilant enough about patrolling the way his allies inside and outside the administration deified him in their own murmurings to the media, which included the nugget that colleagues awed by his knowledge called him “the encyclopedia.” He didn’t grasp that you can’t be “the encyclopedia” if your president is barely a pamphlet, and didn’t see the traps that would have been obvious to a Washington insider.
He didn’t grapple with who Trump really is. Trump’s allegiances are fickle. His attention flits. His compass is popularity, not any fixed philosophy, certainly not the divisive brand of populism and nationalism that Bannon was trying to enforce. Bannon insisted on an ideology when Trump cares more about applause, and what generates it at a campaign rally isn’t what sustains it when you’re actually governing.
Bannon stupidly picked a fight with Jared Kushner that he was all but certain to lose, and not only because Kushner is kin. Consider Trump’s obsession with appearances, then tell me who has the advantage: the guy who looks like a flea market made flesh or the one who seems poised to pose for G.Q.?
Bannon is still on the job, and Trump may keep him there, because while he has been disruptive inside the White House, he could be pure nitroglycerin outside. He commands acolytes on the alt-right. He has the mouthpiece of Breitbart News. He has means for revenge. He also has a history of it.
But it’s hard to imagine how he ever again ascends to a status as lofty as the one he held; others have rushed into that airspace. SuperJared flies high. Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, is flapping his own wings.
And “Trump’s got a new favorite Steve,” according to a headline in Politico on Thursday. The story below it charted the rising fortunes of Bannon’s deputy, Stephen Miller, who has been cozying up to Kushner and, according to Politico, complaining that “Bannon tried to take too much credit for Trump’s successes.”
Today’s Steve appreciates where yesterday’s went wrong. He understands that if you want to be the Svengali, you have to play the sycophant. That was a performance beyond Bannon’s ken. He never had a chance.
Let's revisit this op-ed in a year or two. The analysis feels facile and tainted by confirmation bias. It's not all about Trump's ego. There's more at work here. If anyone on Trump's team colluded with Russia, it's a fair bet that Bannon knew of it at best and orchestrated the DNC email leaks at worst. Bannon is being banished to the land of plausible deniability. I hardly knew him. He came late to the campaign. Those statements aren't meant to put Bannon in his place but to put him at a safe distance before it's too late. Tick, tick, tick.
P.M. Summerville, GA
It is not going to be that easy to kick Steve Bannon to the curb, if Robert and Rebekah Mercer have anything to say about it.
And, the Mercers feel they do have a microphone.
Despite what a lot of gullible people in this country thought, Donald Trump is not so wealthy that he financed his campaign for the presidency completely on his own.
The Mercers gave Trump millions - because of Citizens United, much or most of the money was dark and we don't know exactly how much.
The Mercers stuck with Trump during the immediate days after the release of the "Access Hollywood" video, gave his campaign a lot of needed cash, and insisted Bannon become a central player in the Donald Trump regime.
The Mercers think they own stock - a lot of it - in the Trump presidency, and they think their shares give them the right to keep Bannon where he is.
Trump always betrays his creditors, associates, employees and everybody else. However, he crosses the Mercers at his own peril.
David Gottfried New York City
Bannon's status reminds me of some people who got Stalin mad.
Stalin, allegedly, was jealous of the Mayor of Leningrad becasue he was so popular; Stalin purged him
Stalin, allegedly, was uptight because Zinoviev was talented. Although Zinoviev was Jewish, Stalin said he was spying for Hitler.
One of the Soviet commanders, the man who led the red army into Poland and finally into Germany, generated a lot of enthusiasm among his men. He was purged.
Stalin was left with a lot of mediocre half wits, like Sean Spicer and company
karp NC 2
There's another element here: activists on the left deliberately keeping Bannon's name fresh, especially on Twitter, to play on Trump's insecurity.
No, Bannon isn't a master manipulator. Yes, Trump is unusually fickle. But as loath as some people may be to give credit to online activism, it definitely had an effect, here.
This should be seen as a step forward in activism, a sign that the left has moved on from the 60s and has started to actually learn new ways to protest.
Lou Good Page, AZ
Trump's biggest mistake will be if he humiliates and then fires Bannon. Then he'll find out just how influential Bannon is and how large a role he played in Trump's election when he picks his Republican challenger for 2020.
And how little the alt-right regards puff pastry members of his family like Jared and Ivanka. They didn't generate votes or enthusiasm, Bannon did and can again. But it won't be for Trump.
Jared and Ivanka? Where are they skiing this weekend?
This headline reminds me of the New York Times headline leading up to the Presidential election that there was a 90% chance of Hillary Clinton being elected President. That prediction did not come true. Steve Bannon has not been fired and I personally hope he continues on in his position as a trusted advisor to the President. Bannon is a Trump loyalist and he has sympathy for and loyalty to the much and unfairly maligned White working class. These are the people that elected Trump and economically they are hanging by a thread. It is a good thing for our country that someone who has an ear to the door of the struggling American masses also can get face time with the current leader of the free world. Perhaps Mr. Bruni you would like Bannon a whole lot more if he cared a whole lot more for Wall Street hedge fund guys and the investors and bankers at Goldman Sachs? Why don't the working class saps of this country deserve some advocacy and attention? Without them the Wall Street bankers would have nothing to do because they(the working class) are the peons that create the wealth in the first place. America will only survive if the working class starts to thrive once more. I pray to the good Lord that Bannon stays.
LB Del Mar, CA
The Trump Presidency continues America's decades long descent into becoming a third world country. Trump is self defined autocrat who has no loyalty to anyone or anything other then himself and his family, especially if it can profit him or them. Nepotism, as one Trump son recently touted as a natural side benefit his father being President, is one of the perks. The same standard as any third world country. What was Bannon thinking? Bannon had to know that in any power struggle with Trump's son in law, as non family, he was destined to lose. Not that I am shedding any tears over his fall, given his alt right nationalist beliefs and role as a professional peddler of paranoid right wing conspiracy theories.
Carl Meilicke Vancouver, b.c.
Now that Bannon is out are we to be saved by a couple of 30 something kids who have spent their entire lives in a Daddy funded dream world.
This is getting more ridiculous every day! And more dangerous every day.
Doremus Jessup On the move
Let us all hope that Bannon decides to leave the White House, not so much for the good of the country, but for the possibility that Bannon would go after Trump and Kushner, and many many others with a vengeance.
The dirty looking, disheveled Bannon would be like the proverbial fox in the hen house, creating panic and discord with every statement he made.
He could seriously cause problems for Trump and even Trump is aware of this, one would think. He keeps Bannon at his peril, and likewise if he cuts him loose.
The feathers could soon be flying.