Who is Steve Bannon

January 13, 2018 10:14 pm | Updated December 03, 2021 12:23 pm IST

A file photo of Steve Bannon

A file photo of Steve Bannon

Outshining your master is the singularly dangerous thing to do in power politics, Stephen K. Bannon, a history buff, should have known. His eclipse in the court of his master Donald Trump started after he began styling himself as the mastermind of the latter’s victory in the 2016 November presidential election. Mr. Trump fired Mr. Bannon from his job as the chief strategist at the White House in August 2017, but both continued to remain in touch.

What is the Trump link?

But Mr. Bannon’s comments on the Trump family in the sensational new book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has pushed their ties to a breaking point. The President, who usually manages to insult anyone on his crosshairs within the character limit of a Twitter post, issued a 266-word statement on January 3, in which he disavowed and humiliated Mr. Bannon. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Bannon and Mr. Trump joined hands in August 2016, even as the latter’s campaign was floundering. Mr. Trump had captured the Republican nomination by running a campaign that appealed to the anti-immigration and anti-trade sentiments, but he was being advised by conventional strategists to adopt a more traditional approach for his general election run against Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Bannon had been spearheading an anti-immigrant, anti-trade campaign since 2008 and was on the lookout for a politician who could be an effective vehicle for this agenda. A graduate of Virginia Tech and Harvard Business School, Mr. Bannon had straddled many worlds already — navy sailor, Hollywood producer, entrepreneur and Wall Street banker, before he took over Breitbart , the online platform that was funnelling all that would be Trumpian in the future, in 2012.

Mr. Trump was in need of someone who could add a layer of intellectual reasoning to his populist rhetoric. The twain met.

What about his White House stint?

Appointed to lead the campaign, Mr. Bannon encouraged Mr. Trump to double down on his original agenda, a strategy that turned out to be winning. Joining the White House, Mr. Bannon set the agenda for Mr. Trump in the initial weeks, as the President fired on all cylinders on his anti-immigration and anti-trade agenda. But the turn for the worse came in their relations when Time magazine titled Mr. Bannon as the “second most powerful man in the world.” Mr. Trump said in an interview that Mr. Bannon was just one of the many people who worked for him.

The Trump White House was staffed by nationalists who adhered to Mr. Trump’s campaign agenda and globalists who toed the traditional Republican line on trade and immigration, leading to a fierce battle between the two sides for controlling the administration. Mr. Bannon, leader of the nationalist group, attacked the globalist gang and maintained an upper hand until he fell out with the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, also a White House aide. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kushner had famously bonded during the campaign.

What happens now?

“The Presidency that we fought for and won is over,” Mr. Bannon declared as he left the White House. He returned to his earlier job and original passion — as head of Breitbart , warring against the Republican establishment. Then began the setbacks. A candidate that he supported lost a Senate seat held by Republicans for 25 years; then came the book and the presidential snub. To top it all, he lost his Breitbart job, as its financial backers — conservative donors — did not want him to be around. But he has a skill set that makes him a valuable partner in American right-wing politics, and hence his political obituary should not be written in a hurry. Mr. Bannon has reportedly told his associates that Mr. Trump cannot rely on Republicans and will need him again. On his part, Mr. Trump, too, does not rule out a future association with Mr. Bannon. “You never know, you know again, the word — I don’t know what the word permanent means, OK? I never know what the word permanent means,” he told The Wall Street Journal , when asked if his break with his former aide was permanent.

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