More turmoil in White House as chief strategist Bannon out

19 Aug 2017


Stephen K Bannon, President Donald Trump's the embattled chief strategist, on Friday departed the White House after a turbulent tenure shaping the fiery populism of the president's first seven months in office.

There was some nit-picking in sections of the media over whether Bannon was fired or quit on his own, though this is now of little significance.

''White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day,'' Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. ''We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.''

A far-right architect of Trump's 2016 election victory and a driving force behind his anti-globalisation and pro-nationalist agenda, Bannon had been fighting with more moderate factions inside a White House riven with rivalries and back-stabbing.

His exit, the latest in a string of high-profile West Wing shake-ups, comes as Trump is under fire for saying that ''both sides'' were to blame for last week's deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginiaa.

Critics accused the president of being influenced by Bannon when he equated white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the left-wing protesters who opposed them.

Bannon's outsized influence on the president, captured in a February cover of Time magazine with the headline 'The Great Manipulator', was reflected in the response to his departure.

Reuters reports White House officials said Trump had directed his recently appointed Chief of Staff John Kelly to crack down on the bickering and factional infighting and that Bannon's comments this week to the American Prospect liberal magazine in which he talked openly of targeting his adversaries within the administration, was the final straw that sealed his fate.

According to The New York Times, conservatives groused that they lost a key advocate inside the White House and worried aloud that Trump would shift left, while cheers erupted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange when headlines about Bannon's ouster appeared.

Both the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average immediately rose on Friday, though they ended the day slightly down.

His removal is a victory for John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general whose mission is to impose discipline on White House personnel. A caustic presence in a chaotic West Wing, Bannon is known to have frequently clashed with other aides as they fought over trade, the war in Afghanistan, taxes, immigration and the role of government.

In his American Prospect interview, Bannon mocked his colleagues, including Gary D Cohn, one of the president's chief economic advisers, saying they were ''wetting themselves'' out of a fear of radically changing trade policy.

Trump had recently grown weary of Bannon, complaining to other advisers that he believed his chief strategist had been leaking information to reporters and was taking too much credit for the president's successes.

According to NYT, the situation had become untenable long before Friday, according to advisers close to Trump who had been urging the president to remove Bannon; in turn, people close to Bannon also were urging him to step down.

By Friday night, Bannon was already back at the far-right Breitbart News, chairing an editorial meeting at the organisation he helped run before joining Trump's campaign and where he can continue to advance his agenda.

Bannon could still wield influence as a confidant for the president, offering advice and counsel, much like other former advisers who still frequently consult with Trump. Bannon had formed a philosophical alliance with Trump, and they shared an unlikely chemistry.

Bannon has indicated to people that he does not intend to harm Trump and he has promised to be somewhat reserved about other administration officials, including Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and his wife, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter.

''In many ways I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on. And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with,'' Bannon said on Friday.

Bannon frequently clashed with Kushner and others in the administration who sought a more traditional, globalist approach to the world's problems. He also had a long-running feud with Lt Gen H R McMaster, the national security adviser.

High-profile departures

With the departure of Bannon, at least eight top officials are no longer in the White House.

The president has struggled to overcome the dysfunction that has plagued his administration. Bitter feuds among aides were frequently showcased on cable news and in the pages of newspapers. Bannon was among those suspected of repeatedly leaking the details of internal White House debates.

''I'm going to nominate this White House for a Tony Award for the most drama, not the best drama but the most drama,'' said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as President Barack Obama's first chief of staff. ''I've lost track, eight months in, how many people have been fired? How many have left?''

Trump's first year has been plagued by departures, including Anthony Scaramucci and Michael Dubke, both of whom served as communications director; Michael T Flynn, the president's first national security adviser; Sean Spicer, the press secretary; and Reince Priebus, who was chief of staff before Kelly.

The sense of chaos continued on Friday as Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor who was advising Trump on regulatory issues, announced he was stepping down from that role. And A R Bernard, a pastor on the president's Evangelical Advisory Board, quit, citing a ''deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.''

By dismissing Bannon, the president loses the most visible avatar of the nationalist agenda that propelled him to victory.

Contentious and difficult, Bannon was nonetheless a driving force behind the president's most high-profile policies: imposing a ban on travellers from several majority-Muslim countries; shrinking the federal bureaucracy; shedding regulations; and rethinking trade policies by aggressively confronting China and other countries.

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