As President Donald Trump publicly throws shade at his White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Bannon and his “nationalist” White House allies are “laying low” and hoping that a purge isn’t imminent, according to administration officials speaking to The Daily Beast.
On Tuesday night, the New York Post published its interview with Trump from earlier that day in which the president appeared to distance himself from Bannon, one of his top aides.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
The president went on to point out that “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
According to Trump administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, Team Bannon was “blindsided by” Trump’s words in the Post, one official close to Bannon said. “Of course we didn’t know [that] interview was coming,” the official continued.
Another official told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Bannon and other America-First-style “nationalists” in Trump’s ranks are “still laying low for a bit more” as they figure out a way forward.
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment, but the White House communications office confirmed that the Post quoted Trump accurately, and that the president’s words spoke for themselves.
Bannon and his allies, both working in and outside of the West Wing, have been losing influence in Trump’s inner political circle, as reports of infighting between Bannon and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spilled over into full public view. Last week, The Daily Beast reported, citing multiple senior Trump administration officials that “face-to-face” ideological clashing has been “nonstop” in recent weeks, and that Bannon had called Kushner a “globalist” and a “cuck.” One official said Bannon had complained about Team Kushner trying to “shiv him and push him out the door.” The comments came one day after it was announced that Bannon was removed from the National Security Council.
The news this week comes during heightened speculation of whether Bannon’s remaining days operating out of his White House “war room” are numbered. If Bannon were to leave—or get tossed from—the Trump White House, it would be a colossal loss for his anti-Republican-establishment wing of Trump’s senior team which stresses staunchly nationalist principles such as a hardline on immigration and trade. Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn (who, as Axios reports, is nicknamed “Globalist Gary” by Team Bannon) represent a more moderate, conventional, and centrist-leaning faction.
President Trump’s quotes in the Post also acknowledged the reality of the heated infighting between the so-called “globalist” and “nationalist” officials in his three-month-old administration—a power struggle that the White House until just a few days ago was officially denying even existed.
Furthermore, it strains credulity when Trump claims that he “didn’t know” Bannon, or to suggest Bannon played a minor role at the tailend of the 2016 campaign. David Bossie, who would become Trump’s deputy campaign manager, introduced Trump to Bannon in 2011, and Trump appeared on Bannon’s Breitbart show during the presidential campaign for extremely friendly interviews.
And though Bannon was officially “not involved in [Trump’s] campaign until very late”—starting in August during the final big campaign reshuffle—Bannon had been in close contact with Trump and his team since at least 2015, and used his website to boost Trump’s insurgent White House run.
“I'm Trump's campaign manager,” Bannon wrote in an email, sent on August 30, 2015, obtained by The Daily Beast last year. That was a year before he officially hopped aboard Team Trump.
“Don't u ever read breitbart--its trump central,” Bannon continued in his 2015 emails. “Trump is a nationalist who embraces [Jeff Sessions’s] immigration plan.”
It appears as though President Trump’s affections for the nationalist Bannon have softened in recent weeks. Trump had reportedly grown unhappy with the “President Bannon” meme that for months has been highlighted in magazines, on television, and on social media.
Last week, a Republican source close to Trump confirmed to The Daily Beast the president’s level of insecurity over Bannon’s reputation, and mentioned that Trump was seriously “irked” after catching a glimpse of a recent cold-open on Saturday Night Live that depicted Bannon as the real, “Grim Reaper” president and Trump as a dumb stooge.
"Did you see this crap?" Trump asked the confidante, referring to the SNL sketch.
If Bannon ends up being purged from the Trump administration, it’s safe to bet that much of the country’s right-wing media won’t take it lying down, including Breitbart, the influential, pro-Trump stalwart that Bannon used to head until late last year. Trump would risk alienating Bannon’s political and business allies, as well.