Sean Spicer’s and Reince Priebus’s political obituaries were written many times this year, with their dismissals perpetually just days away, and yet they kept hanging on. It’s worth remembering that as you read Politico’s account of Bannon’s supposedly looming demise.
On the other hand, Spicer and Priebus did end up out of the administration eventually. The predictions on how much time they had left were wrong but the general prognosis, that their White House careers would die an untimely death, was right on. It’s worth remembering that too.
[Kelly] has heard a number of complaints about Bannon, who has remained in Washington during the president’s stay in Bedminster, and was displeased by a TV performance from Sebastian Gorka, a national security aide, who questioned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments about the use of military force against North Korea…
He is asking aides about those they think aren’t team players — and has heard about Bannon. Four White House officials said his outside public relations apparatus rattles them — and they believe he is behind attempts to smear national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Bannon has told others he is not, but he has serious policy disagreements with McMaster.
Though several presidential aides said they expect the new chief of staff to push Bannon out in the coming weeks, Bannon has survived many ups and downs in the Trump White House and has consciously lowered his profile over the past two months to avoid angering the president.
That could just be McMaster’s allies in the West Wing wanting to throw a scare into Bannon, but various tea leaves have pointed to him falling out of favor in the White House lately. The ascension of Kelly, a McMaster supporter, to chief of staff and the ensuing purge of Bannon allies from the NSC are the most obvious ones, but there are others. Trump is reportedly unhappy about the new book detailing Bannon’s role in his presidential victory, grumbling, “I hate it when people take credit for an election I won.” (The Time magazine cover story on Bannon earlier this year supposedly bothered Trump for similar reasons.) The NYT reported the day Priebus was fired that “Mr. Trump has considered pushing out Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, according to a White House official who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity,” but noted that conservative populists like Mark Meadows had thus far convinced him to refrain. Just last night came this rumble from Trump crony Roger Stone:
— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) August 12, 2017
Three days ago Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal chimed in with an editorial encouraging Trump to stop questioning McMaster’s loyalty and Kelly to start questioning Bannon’s. The irony, per the Times piece linked above, is that Bannon supposedly helped convince Kelly to join the administration as DHS chief during the transition and “was among those who supported his move to chief of staff” — although the last part is hard to believe given the alliance of convenience Bannon and Reince Priebus had formed against the “Democrats” in the West Wing like Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn. Why would Bannon support replacing Reince with someone whom he had every reason to believe would side with McMaster against him in their battle over foreign policy?
Another question: Knowing that Kelly is apt to blame Bannon for the all-out attacks on McMaster in populist right-wing media over the last few weeks, why didn’t Bannon make some calls to Breitbart et al. to ask them to tone it down? Even if you give Bannon the benefit of the doubt and assume that Breitbart was acting independently, both he and they surely understood that he’d be blamed inside the White House for the ferociously negative coverage of McMaster — and yet the coverage remained negative. Sure enough:
In June, Trump started telling aides that he suspected Bannon was a source of negative stories, according to aides. After a slew of stories about Bannon “winning” policy wars in the White House—like Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord—the president told Bannon to “knock it off,” according to the senior administration official.
Priebus at one point also warned Bannon. “You’ve got to get people to stop writing this shit because people know it’s you,” the senior administration official said.
Either Bannon defied Trump and quietly encouraged Breitbart and other populist platforms to blow up McMaster or Bannon’s allies in right-wing media refused his instructions to stifle their critiques simply to protect Steve Bannon’s job security. I’ve been assuming that Bannon would end up back in charge of Breitbart once he leaves the White House, but the McMaster saga makes me think I’m wrong. It’s hard to believe the editors would defy a “request” from him to ease off McMaster with Bannon’s job at stake knowing that they might have to answer to him personally again as boss if he’s fired.
…Unless, that is, Bannon wants to be fired, which isn’t as illogical as it sounds. He may have concluded at this point, quite reasonably, that major legislation is unlikely to pass before the midterms and anything that does miraculously pass is unlikely to reflect his nationalist/isolationist preferences. The GOP Congress has already ruled out his idea for tax hikes on the rich; the generals seem to be in command of foreign policy. The new RAISE Act that seeks to reduce legal immigration is in sync with Bannon’s ideology but it has no chance of getting to Trump’s desk. And the big infrastructure stimulus he was hoping for appears to be in limbo, shunted aside by health-care and tax reform and poisoned by bitter Democratic opposition to Trump. If he’s staring at 15 more months of paralysis and West Wing backbiting he’s better off getting out now. And if he can arrange it so that he’s fired instead of resigning, which the populist media campaign against McMaster is making more probable, he can return to right-wing media as a martyr to the “globalists” who’ve taken over the White House. Better to go down fighting for nationalism, or at least to be perceived that way, than to hang around and to share the blame for a disappointing first two years to the Trump era among Republicans in 2018.