When Steve Bannon’s star was rising with the incoming Trump administration in December 2016, the new chief strategist granted a long interview with Michael Wolff. The resulting piece in The Hollywood Reporter called the ex-Breitbart chief “arguably the most powerful person on the new White House team.” How quickly it seems to have all fallen apart. Most interesting is that Wolff ended his newly released book on the Trump White House with a quote from Bannon, who said, with relish, “I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.’”
Evidently, Bannon did not recall that when Cromwell, consigliere to Britain’s King Henry VIII, had a falling out, the monarch had him beheaded.
Most see Wolfe’s book as the last straw for Trump: Bannon’s hubris finally did him in. He believed Trump was his “vessel,” but his attacks on the first children sealed his fate. Most appalling to Trump was the now-famous statement about Don Jr. meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower during the campaign, with Bannon saying it was “treasonous” and that the participants should have reported what took place to the FBI as soon as the Russians left the room.
But I don’t believe it’s time to write Steve Bannon’s obituary. No other person Trump dismissed (i.e., Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn) has incurred the president’s anger to the point he has informed people that they have to choose between himself and Bannon. Now, Bannon has been cast out by the wealthy Mercer family, forced out of his editor’s role at Breitbart.com, and dumped from his daily Breitbart radio program on Sirius/XM. Almost every instrument he had to reach his constituency has now been taken away from him. It remains to be seen if he will still have credibility with the Trump base.
This poses a problem for those conservative activists who have been Bannon’s greatest supporters. David Horowitz, who presented Bannon with his “Man of the Year” award on Dec. 30, 2016, at his annual Freedom Center conference, explained that “if [Trump] had not hired Steve Bannon as his chief executive officer, it is doubtful he would be president-elect today.” Nearly a year later, he gave Bannon the center’s award for courage, and wrote: “The ideology of the progressive left and its Democratic Party is the antithesis of America’s constitutional system…This is an irreconcilable conflict. A nation cannot exist half collectivist and globalist, and half individualist and free. “In short,” he continued, “Steve Bannon’s war is a war for our country. It is about patriotism—which Steve likes to call nationalism—and its enemies. It is about us. God bless him.”
There were certainly many more, from conservative intellectuals like Encounter Books publisher and New Criterion Editor in Chief Roger Kimball, who wrote many over-the-top endorsements of Bannon. On his Twitter feed in November 2016, he wrote: “Steven Bannon is a national treasure: very intelligent, politically mature, and utterly fearless.”
I asked both Horowitz and Kimball to comment on where they now stand. Both chose not to respond. So far, only one writer in American Greatness deals with the issue. Benjamin Weichart hasn’t yet chosen sides. He readily acknowledges that Bannon “was the only one in the public eye warning of the economic threat posed to the United States.” But he goes on to credit Jared Kushner—one of Bannon’s main foes in the White House—for “playing a crucial part in Trump’s election,” insinuating that giving the credit all to Bannon was not true.
So why might this exile not be permanent? It would take something dire for Trump to take him back and it would probably only occur if Trump needs his help with the base.
One scenario has been put forward by conservative economist Irwin Stelzer, who argues that if Trump decides to enact a full-fledged protectionist economic policy vis-à-vis China that will cause a major trade war, he will be adopting precisely the approach urged on him for a long time by Bannon. In that case, Democrats and mainstream Republicans could work against its implementation. At such a point, Trump might again need Bannon to muster enthusiastic support for it from the base.
Then there’s the looming 2018 midterm election, and eventually, the 2020 presidential election. Polls indicate that the money is on the Democrats to retake Congress, which may be why Trump now seems so eager to work with them on immigration reform. The very action of sitting down with Nancy Pelosi and Co. to try and get something done, has outraged scores of conservatives. Ann Coulter tweeted this blast at Trump on Tuesday:
This and other compromises will alienate the base, for whom “comprehensive immigration reform” is anathema. At such a moment, Bannon’s services once again might be needed to bring the base back into the fold. To date, there is simply no one who has reached the Trump base as successfully as Bannon, other than Trump himself. Working in the background, he went around the country mobilizing his own forces to support Trump and get them to vote for him in the election. Despite Trump’s claim that Bannon had nothing to do with his winning the election, the evidence points otherwise.
Unlike Josef Stalin, who ordered the assassination of his archenemy Leon Trotsky, who purported to represent the true Bolshevism of Lenin rather than Stalin, Bannon the Leninist will be allowed to live, only to bide his time until Donald Trump, who has a record of forgiving or forgetting about those who attacked him viciously, (Lindsay Graham, for example) if they once again pledge fealty.
On Tuesday, Trump spokesman Hadon Gidley said “I don’t believe there is any way back for Mr. Bannon at this point.” Those last three words say it all. Before you know it, that point will come. That is why it is not the time to say that Bannon’s political career is finished.