Steve Bannon has been ousted from the White House by Donald Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure at the president’s side as Mr Trump struggles to deal with the tsunami of criticism following his Charlottesville response.
Mr Bannon, 63, departed “by mutual agreement,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary.The White House then issued astatement, saying that the decision was agreed by Mr Bannon andJohn Kelly, the chief of staff – a sign of Mr Kelly’s grappling to control the chaos, or perhaps simply to avoid Mr Trump having to put his name to the firing of the man who most connects him to his diehard supporters.
Joel Pollack, editor at large of the hard-Right website Breitbart that Mr Bannon ran, tweeted a one-word response to Mr Bannon’s departure: “War”.
Mr Bannon was controversial from the start. Combative and unapologetic, the former Goldman Sachs financier was employed by Mr Trump as his campaign manager in August 2016, and described at the time as “the most dangerous political operative in America”.
He urged Mr Trump to pursue a populist path, and pressed him to hammer Hillary Clinton as corrupt – reportedly coming up with the “lock her up” chant that reverberated around his rallies.
It was Mr Bannon, with fellow hardliner Stephen Miller, who wrote Mr Trump’s inauguration speech – a dark and foreboding depiction of the “American carnage” that Mr Trump believed he had been elected to stop.
He was often at odds with the”globalist” wing of the White House – Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law; his wife Ivanka Trump; H.R. McMaster, the head of the national security council; and Gary Cohn, director of the national economic council. Mr Bannon reportedly referred to them in private as “the New Yorkers” and “the Democrats”, among more printable nicknames, and tried to steer his boss away from them and towards his own nationalist sympathisers.
At first the president thought fondly of his flame-throwing ideologue, who was seen to wield immense behind-the-scenes power inside the White House. Saturday Night Live depicted him as the grim reaper, playing Mr Trump like a puppet – something that reportedly amused Mr Bannon, but enraged his boss. His departure had been described as imminent before, but since Charlottesville the drum beat of demise rose to a frenzy.
Mr Trump was reported earlier this week to have not spoken face-to-face with Mr Bannon in over a week, and on Tuesday, at the now infamous press conference in which he defended white supremacists, Mr Trump could only offer a lukewarm endorsement, responding to a question about Mr Bannon’s future with: “We’ll see.”That press conference sparked condemnation of a president never before seen in the United States – the heads of the military spoke out against their commander-in-chief, and the UN secretary-general voiced concern. Titans of industry who Mr Trump had so assiduously courted on the campaign trail deserted him in droves, leading to the folding of both his business advisory panels. On Friday the arts council resigned en masse – the first White House agency to do so.
Political condemnation was also snowballing, leading astonished Americans to ask where this could all end. Bob Corker, a senior Republican loyalist and chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, who was considered for secretary of state, declared that “the president has not yet been ablevto demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to” in dealing with crises. And, while Mr Trump sought to shift Thursday from the white supremacists to the future of statues, he was criticised by Rupert Murdoch’s son James, in an email widely circulated.
“I can’t believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists,”
he wrote. Rumblings of discontent from Mr Trump’s staff grew so loud that the White House was forced to release a statement saying that Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s chief economic adviser, was not quitting. The Dow Jones suffered its worst day since May on Thursday, but rebounded slightly on the news that Mr Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, was staying put.
Mr Cohn will certainly not be crying over the departure of Mr Bannon. Mr Bannon perhaps sealed his own fate this week by telephoning a reporter with The American Prospect, a Left-wing publication, to contradict his boss – and suggest that he was deciding who was in and who was out in the state department. “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” said Mr Bannon, directly undermining Mr Trump’s vow to respond if attacked.
Asked about his rivals at the departments of state, defence and treasury, who wanted to keep China on side by avoiding trade wars, Mr Bannon was unrepentant. “They’re wetting themselves,” he said. “I’m changing out people at East Asian Defense; I’m getting hawks in. ”But Mr Bannon may not go quietly. One of the reasons Mr Trump was said to have delayed dismissing him was fear of “weaponising” Mr Bannon, if he was unleashed from the White House.
A friend of Mr Bannon said he intended to return to Breitbart, adding: “This is now a Democrat White House”.