Steve Bannon, the figure most frequently touted as the Machiavellian mastermind behind President Donald Trump’s connection with his populist base, left the White House late last week.
But his absence has shown no signs of hampering the support Trump enjoys among those core supporters. All indication in the past five days has been that those voters like Trump for Trump and it makes little to no difference who stands beside him inside the White House.
Rhetorically speaking, the president’s marathon address in Phoenix yesterday—in which he bashed the media, coyly suggested he’d pardon Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and threatened to shut down the government over long-promised border wall funding—was peak form. It reminded Trump supporters, after a disappointing Monday night in which the president promised to put more troops on the ground in Afghanistan, about the person they voted for.
“Well, the tweets say it all (HALLELUJAH!) but I would add that the emperor god better understand that he can’t keep giving these beautiful speeches -- promising the wall, deporting illegals, renegotiating nafta, etc etc — and then getting to washington and doing NONE OF IT,” conservative media firebrand Ann Coulter told The Daily Beast in an email.
Coulter was far from the only Trump-supporter jubilantly tweeting through the address. Jim Hoft, the man behind the website Gateway Pundit, tweeted: “AMAZING! @POTUS Trump kills it in AZ. He was finished a week ago. Tonight he delivered his BEST SPEECH ever! Truly a STUNNING PERFORMANCE!” White nationalist Richard Spencer, who was in attendance at the Charlottesville rally last weekend, observed that Trump commented on antifa (antifascists) but again did not denounce the alt-right: a win-win for him.
“Trump has never denounced the Alt-Right. Nor will he,” Spencer tweeted.
Beyond the anecdotal evidence, some early polling from the Trump campaign’s top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, also underscores that Trump voters seem not to care that Bannon is out of the White House.
According to polling conducted by his firm, some 29 percent of people in an August survey of 1,500 self-described GOP or GOP leaning voters nationally, viewed Trump more favorably after Bannon was axed and only 6 percent viewed him less favorably. Some 48 percent indicated that it didn’t change their opinion at all.
“Voters in Presidential elections are barely influenced by who the VP candidates are. Why should a campaign or administration staffer matter more?” Fabrizio told The Daily Beast. “Only in the bubble of the DC Beltway do players, events and issues often take on outsized importance as compared to how the rest of the country views them.”
Trump is still suffering politically. Fabrizio’s firm charted a net 14 percentage point decline in Trump’s approval rating between a June survey and an August one. But the erosion appears to be mostly outside of his base—by contrast, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saw a 25 percent net decline.
“I don't think that President Trump's overall conservative support will be impacted by Steve Bannon’s absence,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax and a friend of Trump’s, told The Daily Beast. “I see the president's conservative base is rock solid, and his supporters understand that he has to take pragmatic steps to implement his vision. He can't fulfill all of his promises, and needs the support of Congress.”
While Bannon’s absence has not yet harmed Trump’s standing among his base, it could potentially free up the president to chart a different legislative path. Ruddy argued for as much, saying that Trump would benefit from moving more to the center and trying to “seek a bipartisan consensus on things like tax cuts, infrastructure and even programs in the education area.”
Tuesday night’s address in Phoenix underscored that such a shift has yet to be made. And those close to the president don’t expect it to come any time soon. Many of Trump’s closest advisers never saw Bannon as a Rasputin-like puppet master, an image some in media had suggested if not encouraged. Instead, Bannon was viewed as a cheerleader and top adviser who saw in Trump a "nationalist" bond and who worked to keep Trump from possibly "wobbling on that," as one close Bannon ally describes it. Trump had his own hardliner views. The Breitbart head honcho didn't magically instill them into the then candidate.
"The president did not get his immigration views from Steve Bannon," one White House official and veteran of the campaign stressed to The Daily Beast. "Any suggestion otherwise is pure fiction."
That seems particularly true after Tuesday evening. As President Trump delivered his speech in Phoenix, one guy taking gleeful notice was Bannon, along with the rest of the Breitbart crew with which he is now officially reunited. According to two sources at Breitbart News, Bannon was ecstatic with, and proud of, Trump’s performance—his stated line on the border wall, the Arpaio flourishes, the salvos at political opponents in his own party and his enemies in media.
All of which, of course, makes the case that Trump does not need Bannon to be the Trump who Bannon long loved.
“Globalists can only make Trump pivot so much,” one Breitbart editor told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening.