Paradoxically, the people left speaking to Bannon most in this period were the liberal journalists who despised him. There was a danger that Bannon would end up like the Howard Beale character in Network (1976). He’d be wheeled into TV studios to jabber about borders, but safely defanged and declawed, another flayed pangolin in the global wet market of ideas.
Why then, would the President pick up the phone to a guy who can barely get a meeting with Matteo Salvini? Bannon’s ill-starred eurotrip doesn’t obscure the fact that he has a better feel for campaigns than anyone currently on Trump’s staff. It’s worth recalling how low the Trump campaign was in August 2016 when Bannon took over.
Trump was behind Clinton across the board, and in swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida she enjoyed a double digit lead. Fiasco after fiasco — fights with war veteran’s families, fights the Pope, claims that Barack Obama ‘founded Isis’ — left Trump facing a devastating defeat. While Bannon let it be known that he was encouraging ‘Trump to be Trump’, he actually had him read off a teleprompter. It was Bannon who had the vision to see that Clinton’s blue wall was another Maginot Line. The newly disciplined candidate began an improbable polling rise. According to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, ‘the campaign really turned when Bannon came aboard’. After the Access Hollywood tape, it was Bannon who went on the attack. ‘Trump’, wrote Joshua Green in 2017, ‘wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Bannon’. Green was right.