In less than a week, Steve Bannon went from being the self-anointed revolutionary leader of the nationalist, Trumpist movement, to getting shunned by President Donald Trump, ditched by conservative allies and mega-donors, and, ultimately, ejected from his media flagship, Breitbart News.
Now, as he finds himself in a professional nadir, the enigmatic Bannon is already gaming out next steps.
Three sources with knowledge of Bannon’s plans say he intends to launch a new “dark money” nonprofit group in the coming weeks. The organization will be distinct from Bannon’s prior political endeavors, which included documentary films, political data-mining efforts, and more niche political and policy outfits. And unlike virtually all of those efforts, it will not receive funding from his estranged financial backers, Robert and Rebekah Mercer.
There will be some continuity, though. The new organization will focus on Bannon’s longtime pet issues: U.S. policy toward China and the Gulf region, immigration, and foreign trade.
The group, if it launches as planned, will offer an avenue for Bannon to remain involved in national politics after the high-profile disavowals from President Trump and the Mercers. It could also help him draw a salary after losing a hefty one. According to the personal financial disclosure statement he filed upon joining the White House last year, Bannon was paid more than $544,000 in 2016 by Breitbart and Mercer-funded entities Cambridge Analytica, Glittering Steel, and the Government Accountability Institute.
It’s a remarkable turn for a man who, not so long ago, had arguably the most powerful perch in American politics short of the president himself.
Bannon left the White House on unceremonious terms in August. But even on the outs, his impact on the Republican Party seemed likely to be profound. Both he and Breitbart helped controversial former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore take down a GOP incumbent in the Alabama Republican Senate primary. And both stuck with Moore even after he was accused of sexually harassing teenage girls.
When Moore lost, it was a huge embarrassment.
That facilitated Bannon’s exile. What sealed it was the publication of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, in which Bannon offered scorched-earth remarks about the intellectual and political fecklessness of Trump’s kids and called an infamous 2016 campaign meeting with Russian officials at Trump Tower, “treasonous.”
The criticism was instantaneous. Virtually every elected Republican official who weighed in on the matter denounced Bannon. Late last week, Rebekah Mercer, who owns a sizeable state in Breitbart, publicly rebuked him shortly after she spoke with Trump on the phone. The president, as well as much of his family and inner circle, was furious with Bannon and actively worked the phones to impress to friends and allies their desire to see Bannon’s political death.
Among Bannon’s inner circle, the term “denial” was used to describe his mental state over the controversy. Over the past few days, Bannon assured friends and staff that he wasn’t going anywhere. As rumors swirled that the Mercers were seriously weighing severing financial ties, he told every associate, colleague, and reporter who inquired about it, right up until they were publicly confirmed, that they were “total nonsense,” as multiple sources recalled.
On Tuesday, Bannon finally bent to reality, officially stepping down as executive chairman of Breitbart.
“I’m proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform,” Bannon said in a statement posted to Breitbart on Tuesday. According to Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, Bannon is “a valued part of our legacy, and we will always be grateful for his contributions, and what he has helped us to accomplish.”
Shortly after, Sirius XM, which carries a Breitbart radio show, said in a statement that Bannon “will no longer host on Sirius XM.” It’s a radio platform on which Bannon had hosted Trump for friendly interviews, years before he was inaugurated as president.
In addition, every source close to Bannon or familiar with his situation who spoke with The Daily Beast conceded that his ballyhooed political revolution—including a 501(c)(4) group that one Bannon associate characterized as something akin to a “war council” against the Republican establishment—are all but doomed.
Some close to Bannon spun his departure as an effort to insulate Breitbart’s news operation from his future political endeavors. Beyond those endeavors, Bannon has also been plotting a return to documentary filmmaking, according to a source familiar with his plans, harkening back to his Hollywood stint and also prior streak in conservative docs.
His enemies, and he has more than a few, had other ideas for a subsequent career.
“There is no next step for him,” former Breitbart staffer Ben Shapiro said. “He lost his money, he lost his political power, and he just lost his only media outlet. His next step is to be a commentator on MSNBC talking about how crazy Trump is, presumably. That way, he can get strange new respect.”
—With additional reporting by Lloyd Grove