Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief political strategist and scion of the nationalist movement in the White House, is no longer a White House employee. After chewing on the prospect of sending the former Breitbart chairman packing, Trump finally ordered his dismissal at the end of a week that has seen the president’s stock fall with Republican lawmakers over the continuing fallout of the violence in Charlottesville.
One Bannon ally told the New York Times that it was his decision to deliver his resignation letter, while CNN cited an administration official that said that Bannon had a choice to either resign from his post or go through the process of being fired. However it went down, the chief strategist is now looking for a new job.
Why Bannon was let go is still somewhat of a mystery. As detailed in Joshua Green’s new book “The Devil’s Bargain,” Trump was reportedly displeased that Bannon claimed credit for his victory over Hillary Clinton last year. The president and several West Wing aides, including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, suspected Bannon as being the prime source of many of the leaks about White House staff infighting and grudges — particularly a week’s-long campaign by alt-right media against McMaster, which continues to this day. Bannon’s out-of-the-blue decision to call up a liberal journalist and blast colleagues like Gary Cohn certainty didn’t help his staying power, even if he later claimed that it was a ruse to distract the media from negative coverage over Trump’s Charlottesville response. Perhaps he saw the handwriting on the wall and knew he was going to be forced out, so he treated this as a uncensored exit interview.
Now that Bannon is gone, three things are worth noting.
First, his dismissal comes at a time when the Trump administration is nearing the completion of its Afghanistan policy review and has happened on the very day that Trump is meeting with his national security advisers at Camp David. Bannon has been reluctant if outright opposed to McMaster’s proposal to send several thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, viewing it as a wasted effort. With Bannon no longer on the team, will the Afghanistan skeptics have any more political power to make their case?
Secondly, this news will come as a great relief to McMaster. Bannon has been an obstacle to the three-star Army General on practically everything, from staff appointments on the National Security Council to whether to keep the Iran nuclear deal in place. Bannon’s removal is the best thing McMaster could have hoped for; his chief rival in the White House is now locked out of the inter-agency policy debates.
Last but not least, Bannon’s exit won’t mean that Bannon has lost all of his influence. Breitbart is a gigantic and influential platform for nationalists and populists who voted for Trump last year, which means that Bannon’s former network has a lot of leverage to ensure that the West Wing doesn’t go full “globalist.” Bannon may be shut out from the formal mechanisms of government, but that doesn’t mean he will shut up. The guy isn’t going to leave silently, and Trump might be willing to listen to what his former chief strategist has to say.