Steve Bannon is out as White House chief strategist, abruptly ending the tenure of one of Donald Trump’s most controversial top aides.
White House chief of staff “John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” an administration official said, confirming the departure. “We are grateful for his service.”
Mr Bannon is the fourth high-profile adviser to depart the White House this summer amid a major West Wing shake-up. Mr Trump’s press secretary, chief-of-staff, communications director and now chief strategist have all resigned or been pushed out just within the past four weeks.
In the White House, Mr Bannon was one of the few top aides who shared some of Mr Trump’s economical nationalist views and hardline stances on national security and immigration. His exit appears to be a major win for Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who now leads the president’s National Economic Council, and other pro-business moderates within the administration.
In an interview with The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, this week Mr Bannon asserted that he was engaged “in a fight every day” with Mr Cohn and “Goldman Sachs lobbying”.
“The economic war with China is everything and we have to be maniacally focused on that,” Mr Bannon said. “If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
During his tenure at the White House, Mr Bannon gained a reputation for being one of Mr Trump’s most powerful aides. In the press, his perceived influence acquired him the nickname “President Bannon” — much to Mr Trump’s ire. On the comedy show Saturday Night Live, he was portrayed as the grim reaper, the devil over Mr Trump’s shoulder. Time Magazine featured his picture on its cover earlier this year under the tagline: “The Great Manipulator”.
At an impromptu conference earlier this week, Mr Trump suggested that Mr Bannon’s fate was uncertain. “I like Mr Bannon, he is a friend of mine, but he came on very late,” Mr Trump said, a comment that seemed to suggest Mr Bannon, who joined Mr Trump’s campaign two and a half months before last year’s election, did not deserve credit for Mr Trump’s victory.
“He is a good person — actually he gets very unfair press in that regard. But we will see what happens with Mr Bannon,” the president said.
In previous interviews, Mr Bannon had predicted he would last approximately eight months in the White House — and he did, minus two days. Thursday marked officially one year to the day that he officially joined Mr Trump’s campaign as its chief executive.
While many have assigned blame for some of Mr Trump’s most controversial policies and instincts to Mr Bannon, others have cautioned against such thinking in the wake of the president’s self-determined reaction to the violence in Charlottesville this week.
One Republican veteran of previous administrations said Thursday’s criticism from Senator Bob Corker, a polite ally of Mr Trump’s in the past and a one-time vice presidential candidate, had illustrated how strained ties had grown between prominent members of the party and the White House — something that would likely persist with or without Mr Bannon.
“Corker is the first [Republican] who seemingly has gone from willing to be in his Cabinet to calling him incompetent,” the Republican said. Still, he warned: “A ship with an incompetent captain can avoid the shoals only for so long.”
Mr Bannon’s departure is likely to ignite a fierce fight over the narrative surrounding his exit. In his public comments, Mr Bannon has suggested that he resigned from the position. However, others in the administration have privately alleged that Mr Trump was pressured to fire Mr Bannon by other top aides in the White House, including Mr Kelly.
Mr Bannon told Circa, a conservative radio outlet, that he had sent a resignation letter to the president on August 7 but that his departure had been pushed back in the wake of violence in Charlottesville and its political aftermath.
At least one White House aide rejected the account that it had been Mr Bannon’s decision to leave, pinning the chief strategist’s departure on Mr Trump’s new chief of staff, who has tried to a semblance of order and hierarchy in the West Wing. “This was General Kelly’s decision,” the aide said.
It remains to be seen what role Mr Bannon will take on outside the administration. Many allies of the president privately worry that Mr Bannon, a former top executive for Breitbart, the far right news site, could launch a war on the president from the outside, by urging conservative news outlets to take on the president and members of the White House staff.