When he was kicked out of the White House last week, Steve Bannon said that ‘the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,’ but added that ‘we still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency’.
Back in the early days of the administration he was seen as the real power behind the throne, the man pulling the president’s strings, now he’s out of the White House and back at the helm of right-wing website Breitbart.
Bannon was Trump’s ambassador to the alt-right, an internet-bred audience cultivated by Breitbart that helped propel Trump to the presidency. Early executive orders, such as the ill-fated ‘Muslim ban’, had Bannon’s fingerprints all over them.
Indeed, Bannon considered it his duty to keep Trump honest to his campaign promises, especially those based around the nationalist, populist ideology that Bannon espouses, and had these written up on a board in his West Wing office. Now that he has been shown the door, the alt-right no longer have one of their own in the Oval Office.
From the beginning of his days in the White House, Bannon was always in conflict with other members of the inner circle, but the real obstacle to implementing his ideas through the presidency came in the form of the other two branches of government: congress and the judiciary. With the arrival of John Kelly as the new chief of staff came another barrier to fulfilling his agenda.
After his dismissal as chief White House strategist and subsequent return to Breitbart, Bannon called the website a machine and ominously warned that ‘we’re about to rev that machine up’.
Now that he’s on the outside, Bannon doesn’t have such direct access to power, but he will feel more comfortable operating in the world of online media, rather than political bureaucracy. As a priest of the alt-right, he leads a large and devoted flock of disaffected white men, many of whom will have voted for Trump.
How Bannon chooses to cover the administration will impact on how this demographic views the presidency. He has already used his media machine to take aim at his White House enemies including generals John Kelly and H.R. McMaster.
President Trump’s lukewarm rebuke of nationalists in Charlottesville applied even more pressure to the divisions within the White House. Bannon, knowing that many of the tiki-torch wielding, swastika flag-carrying crowd that marched in Charlottesville were probably Breitbart readers, would have been one of the few West Wing officials who approved of that controversial speech.
Following the fallout of Trump’s ill-advised comments, and the fear that they would forever stain the administration with the taint of neo-Nazis, it is not surprising that they wanted to distance themselves from Bannon. The same is true of Sebastian Gorka, the goatee-sporting, fake medal-wearing adviser with links to a Hungarian fascist group who aligned himself with Bannon’s nationalist message and has also since been given the boot.
Trump’s latest move, a controversial presidential pardon bestowed on former Sheriff Joe Arpaio convicted of criminal contempt for detaining illegal immigrants, will have gone down very well with the alt-right, and was perhaps meant to remind that audience that he is still one of them.
The divisive pardon for the Arizona sheriff was Trump’s way of showing off some of his power, but it seems that any points scored for Team Nationalist will come in small, symbolic actions like that. As he continues to pick fights within and without the Republican party, Trump is losing allies and political capital fast, making him unable to force any real legislation through Congress.
Having been booted out of the White House, Bannon will now be re-energized and looks set to carry on the fight in the media. There will be no more executive orders written by his pen, but this is not the last we will hear of him or the alt-right.