Color me skeptical about an “imminent” end to Steve Bannon’s White House career, even with Jonathan Swan’s normally good antennae. Swan reports at Axios that an internal review of leaks and of Bannon’s activities has concluded, and that John Kelly will make the go/no-go decision on firing Donald Trump’s political strategist. Whether or not Bannon survives the review process, Swan hears from a source close to him that people need to get ready for “Bannon the barbarian”:
A decision is imminent from White House chief of staff John Kelly on whether Steve Bannon will keep his job, according to administration officials with knowledge of the situation:
- Bannon, who has run afoul of Trump in the past, is now suspected by the president of leaking about his West Wing colleagues. And Trump resents the publicity Bannon has been getting as mastermind of the campaign.
- Many West Wing officials are now asking “when,” not “if,” Bannon goes.
One key may be a lack of specific portfolio for Bannon:
One White House source twists the knife: “His departure may seem turbulent in the media, but inside it will be very smooth. He has no projects or responsibilities to hand off.”
That, however, is one point that makes Bannon more valuable. If Bannon was in charge of a specific portfolio, he’d be easily replaceable. Policy experts are a dime a dozen … well, okay, maybe $1.2 million a dozen, but still pretty easy to find. Bannon didn’t come in with any specific expertise except in political strategy, and even that expertise is hardly unusual in Washington DC. He’s not even analogous to Karl Rove, whose prodigious talents for comprehending granular electoral data and leveraging it for success has been somewhat forgotten.
Bannon’s there for the simple reason that his instincts in politics run similar to Trump’s. After Tuesday’s press conference, it seems pretty clear that Trump’s instincts still run in that same direction, rather than the more cautious and professional approach of Kelly. The one possible provocation for firing him may be Bannon’s inexplicable gabfest with The American Prospect‘s Robert Kuttner, which might be enough to push the wedge between him and Trump, especially over his remarks about North Korea. It can’t be about the leaks, because as Swan’s report demonstrates, there are more leakers than just Bannon, assuming he’s one of them.
On the other hand, this seems … ominous:
Bannon had one hell of a run…
— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) August 18, 2017
Even if Bannon goes, though, don’t expect Trump to change. Tuesday’s press conference was the classic he fights Trump that had been on display long before Bannon joined the campaign. If Bannon leaves, Trump won’t suddenly change. He might get a little less internal encouragement to vent his id, but Trump hasn’t needed that anyway. This will be less of a story than most seem to believe at the moment, which will probably only be recognized in hindsight.
Update: The New York Times has two sources that say Bannon’s definitely on his way out — but time and manner are still up in the air:
President Trump has told senior aides that he has decided to remove Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist who helped Mr. Trump win the 2016 election, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion.
The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time.
In other words, it may not happen at all. But if it does, Bannon may be willing to provide Trump political cover:
As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but it was delayed in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.
Drudge and Swan both have pretty good antennae, so I’m less skeptical … but still not convinced.
Update: Other media outlets are picking up on the NYT story, but ABC tweets that they “learned” it too, presumably separately:
— ABC News (@ABC) August 18, 2017
Update: Finally, a named source goes on the record, and it’s … Bannon himself:
— Sara A. Carter (@SaraCarterDC) August 18, 2017
Update: According to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, today is Bannon’s last day on the job, by mutual agreement with John Kelly:
-> @PressSec: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) August 18, 2017
CBS’ Margaret Brennan reports that the mutuality of this decision may be overstated.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 18, 2017
Hmmmmmm. What does that do for the “resigned two weeks ago” narrative?