The Bane of Bannon

Steve Bannon has been a topic of much debate. He’s a puzzling character to political pundits and the public alike, but he is someone who should be well understood. His ungraceful exit from the Trump Administration spawned a high-stakes game of political chess with many players. Bannon was Trump’s campaign CEO, the former Chief Strategist to President Trump, and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News; these positions, especially in correlation with each other, make him a controversial figure. Bannon stepped down from Breitbart, after being left with no other choice. He revealed secrets of the Trump administration to Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, a book about the Trump Administration’s first year. Then, he was denounced by the Mercers, a family who donated to the Trump campaign and Super-PAC but also is a minority shareholder of Breitbart. Thus, a former ally became a bitter enemy.

He was undeniably a catalyst for chaos within the Trump administration with his extreme agenda, ties to the alt-right and white nationalists, and his attempts to break up the Republican party. His tenure for Trump revealed many failures of his presidency and irrevocable damage to the American public.

Trump and Bannon’s friendship began as a business partnership. Bannon’s work at Breitbart heavily promoted the Trump campaign while he was being bashed by the mainstream media. While Trump was criticizing and denouncing the media for “Fake News” throughout his campaign and into his presidency, he praised Breitbart news for telling the honest story. They had the same hatred for the mainstream media. They seemed to get along because they had the same goal: to shake up the establishment. They also appear to thrive on some extremism, most famously, xenophobia. During an interview in 2015, Bannon disagreed with Trump’s position on legal immigration and Trump seemed to be unaware of this viewpoint. In a 2016 podcast, Bannon said “don’t we have a problem with legal immigration that has overwhelmed the country?” In this, Bannon clearly holds a more extreme view than Trump, most Republicans, and most Americans. Trump’s America First agenda is arguably one of the primary reasons he won the election, but Bannon seemed to expand this view beyond Trump. Also, many notable news outlets claimed Bannon was behind the Travel Ban executive order, which came unexpectedly shortly after Trump took office. Many believe that this was part of Bannon’s agenda to keep Trump’s campaign promises, he even had a white board listing them in his office, and posted a picture on Twitter showing it in the background. When watching the press conference footage through, this seemed unexpected even for Trump, who read it slowly and said “Big Stuff” afterwards. So it begs the question, is Bannon even more extreme than Trump? And, did he have control over Trump?

Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, viewed Bannon as stirring up extremism within the Republican Party, rather than advertising red values as mainstream. Bannon seemed to have a long record of propping up the worst Republicans for election. Bannon threw in an endorsement to former congressman and felon Michael Grimm in New York. More famously, there was his support of demagogue Roy Moore in Alabama. Moore came under fire for multiple allegations of sexual assault, which he failed to reassure were false. McConnell subsequently blamed Bannon for support of seemingly unelectable candidates. He denounced, “The political genius on display, throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America [Alabama], is hard to ignore.” McConnell's candidate was overpowered by Roy Moore in the Republican primaries. He blames Bannon for endorsing Moore, because Democrat Doug Jones beat him in election, thus narrowing the slim Republican Senate majority. On one hand, Bannon’s qualms with McConnell came purely out of his loyalty for Trump and McConnell's apparent lack thereof. But it seems to be more than that, for Bannon, this is a personal fight; McConnell is his rival. He speaks publicly about him with contempt and disrespect, urging politicians not to vote for him. At a Moore rally he ranted, about McConnell and other Republican senators, “There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better.” It’s easy to say this is only about Moore, but to Bannon this represented the two camps of modern Republicanism, Trump’s and the others. Politicians like McConnell who have kept a level head amongst the Trump Train have slowed his populist movement by not following his agenda. This all seemed to be Bannon’s ultimate goal: using the momentum of Trump and his powerful position to break the Republican party into his own Leviathan.

Bannon’s exile from the White House revealed critical failures within the Trump administration. Firstly, Fire and Fury, the infamous expose on Trump’s first nine months in office, disclosed information that harms the legitimacy of his presidency. This book gained massive media attention and made the New York Times Best Sellers list. It detailed a depiction of the President that strengthened the mockery of him, but this is no longer what we want to hear, considering he holds the highest office in our land. Bannon’s violation of respect for Trump is concerning because of their close relationship and his influence on the Trump administration. We can blame Trump and his administration for not creating a professional demeanor for him in his transition but, more significantly, for failing to protect his reputation; they have failed in the first political sacrament, damage control. It is important for the President to have the reverence of foreign leaders, but this is impossible for him, considering he has lost the respect of the public and many government officials too. Secondly, it has shown, among other instances, that Trump has failed to appoint the right people or has failed to keep them. He has had the most staff turnover of any President with 43% of the top positions. Bannon has many friends in exile including James Comey, Omarosa, Hope Hicks, and Gary Cohn, etc. Thirdly, Senator Graham recently stated “There’s people in his ears in the White House, who are outliers.” This speaks to a larger problem in the Trump administration: some of his closest allies have more controversial ideas than him. Looking at the whole picture, this creates a credibility problem and a confusion about Trump’s changing ideology. Bannon furthered confused Trump’s nationalism with pseudo-populism; Trump is not populist simply because he garnered enough support for an election win. This misconception helps to legitimize the Trump campaign’s values as mainstream, when most clearly are not.

It is beneficial for American politics that Steve Bannon has lost his powerful outlets. He displayed his power-hungry attitude and extreme views through his promotion of controversial candidates, his attempts to domineer Trump, and his lack of integrity. Bannon is the best “You’re fired” we’ve ever seen from Trump!

While his departure from Trump was good, his influence appears to remain. GQ recently published an article on his comeback, and in the wake of the Italian Election, Bannon is stirring up his own “global populist movement.” It is not clear when we, the public, will officially ban Bannon.