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Ousted Stephen Bannon declares end of Trump presidency ‘that we fought for’

The former White House chief strategist then went back to heading far-right publication Breitbart News, which rejoiced over “gaining an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda”

world Updated: Aug 20, 2017 01:03 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Stephen Bannon,Donald Trump,White House
File photo of former chief strategist Steve Bannon with ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior advisor Stephen Miller during an event at the White House in Washington in January. (Reuters)

Ousted from the post of White House chief strategist in yet another churn of personnel, Stephen Bannon told a conservative news publication on Friday that the “Trump presidency we fought for, and won, is over”.

Bannon, who headed the isolationist nationalist wing of the administration and was its key far-right figure, then went back to Breitbart News – a publication he had headed before joining the Trump campaign just a day over a year ago. He chaired the evening news meeting, a standard newsroom practice across the world, amid speculations if he will go after the President or those around him.

The far-right publication celebrated his return, terming him as a “populist hero” in an article that had editor-in-chief Alex Marlow saying: “The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today. Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda.”

“#WAR,” tweeted another Breitbart editor. Just the hashtag.

Bannon himself was more expansive in the interview with conservative publication The Weekly Standard. “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” he said. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”

For now, he blamed “the West Wing Democrats” for the president’s failure to implement his programme. However, he named no one, mostly focussing his attack on moderate establishment Republicans by saying they were less than sincere about repealing and replacing legislations such as Obamacare.

Bannon said the President’s ability to pursue his agenda — “like economic nationalism and immigration” — and “his ability to get anything done — particularly the bigger things, like the wall, the bigger, broader things that we fought for, it’s just gonna be that much harder” with his exit.

The White House announced Bannon’s ouster earlier Friday, confirming speculation in the media. “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” it said in a statement.

This was a unique exit, by mutual agreement. Bannon and those close to him have since told multiple publications that he originally intended to stay with Trump for a year, and that he had resigned on August 7, effective from August 14. But he had stayed on because of the Charlottesville clashes.

Bannon is the fourth senior-level official to leave the Trump White House in the last five weeks, following press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci (who lasted just 11 days) in chronological order.

A former Goldman Sachs executive who immersed himself into politics after taking over Breitbart News, Bannon’s position in the White House had been a matter of speculation for months. For one, Trump had resented the notion that Bannon orchestrated his victory in the elections last November.

There was also an impression that Bannon was behind some of Trump’s best-known populist actions, such as pulling America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement; deciding to renegotiate a three-nation trade with neighbours Mexico and Canada; and clamping the anti-Muslim travel ban.

Trump believed in those issues himself, probably more strongly than anyone else in his team, and had made those promises much before Bannon joined his campaign. This was something the President was forced to point out to counter the deification of Bannon, triggered in part by a TIME magazine cover. “But Mr Bannon came on very late,” Trump said in his typically rambling manner in the now-infamous news briefing at Trump Tower this week. “You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr Bannon came on very much later than that.”

The issue had bothered him. Trump had issued Bannon a warning along a similar line earlier in the presidency, when reports surfaced of the chief strategist tangling with Jared Kushner – the President’s son-in-law and senior advisor – in one of the many rounds of infighting that have defined this White House.

Bannon had led the camp called “nationalists”, who argued for an America First, nationalist and isolationist thrust to every policy. With Ivanka and Kushner among its members, it ranged against so-called “globalists” who favoured continued engagement with the world, such as the Paris Agreement.

Bannon might go after them and his other White House detractors, such as National Security Adviser HR McMaster, with whom he had disagreed over Afghanistan.

“I feel jacked up,” he told The Weekly Standard. “Now I’m free. I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, ‘It’s Bannon the Barbarian’. I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There’s no doubt. I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart. And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.”

Previous exits

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: A retired general who was an early Trump supporter, Flynn was the first to be ousted from the White House after he lied to the vice-president about his contacts with Russian officials. He left in February, after spending less than a month in office. But the President continued to say good things about him, and allegedly tried to end the FBI probe into his contacts with Russians.

Deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh: Her exit happened next, in March. Walsh left to lead an outside pro-Trump outfit to support the President’s agenda. She was a close ally of then chief of staff Reince Preibus, going back to their stint at the Republican National Committee which Priebus had headed for years.

Communications director Michael Dubke: Brought in to shape the White House’s media strategy in March, Dubke left on reportedly amicable terms just three months later. The reasons, he said, were “personal”.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer: After a tumultuous six months in the position, Spicer quit last week after the president decided to bring Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier, aboard as communications director. Spicer and Priebus had both opposed Scaramucci’s hiring, and managed to keep him out.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus: He had never managed to gain the full backing of the President, and had overseen a chaotic White House with no control over who saw, met or spoke to Trump – which happens to be the key responsibility of the chief of staff. His impending ouster was leaked by Scaramucci in an expletive-ridden rant to a reporter.

Communications director Anthony Scaramucci: Appointed in a sudden personnel reshuffle that led to Spicer’s ouster, Scaramucci was shunted from the White House after serving just 11 days in his new job. The reason was the same late-night rant in which he described Bannon as a self-serving man – only in more colourful language.

First Published: Aug 19, 2017 14:34 IST