Steve Bannon: The Trump-whisperer's rapid fall from grace

Steve Bannon: The Trump-whisperer's rapid fall from grace
From BBC - January 13, 2018

In the end, the master provocateur ended up provoking the wrong person in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Up until only a few months ago, Steve Bannon was arguably the second most powerful man in Washington. The president's one-time chief strategist was the puller of strings, the Trump-whisperer, revelling in his role as an agent of chaos.

Barely 17 months ago, he was among "the best talent in politics" - in Trump's words.

Now, he's merely "Sloppy Steve", the latest person unfortunate enough to be slapped with a derogatory nickname by the US president.

The reason? Bannon was quoted in a new book saying several things that appear to have made his former boss unhappy.

One example that made headlines was that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr, had committed a "treasonous" act in talking to Russians.

Soon after last week's release of Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House, Bannon tried and failed to manage the fallout.

By that point, though, the damage was done. Bannon's backers cut their ties with him, he left the powerful right-wing media empire Breitbart, and the future of the man behind some of Trump's most headline-grabbing policies has been left up in the air.

Even in a White House where political careers have the life expectancy of a house fly, Bannon's sudden rise and fall is remarkable. Here's how it came about.

Bannon joins Team Trump

17 August 2016

As executive chairman of Breitbart - a combative conservative site with an anti-establishment agenda - Bannon was an early cheerleader for Trump and Trumpism.

But it was not until 15 months into the businessman's presidential race that Bannon joined his team.

By that point he was already, according to a profile on the Bloomberg website, "the most dangerous political operative in America", a man with Democrats and establishment Republicans in his crosshairs, and a knack for well-timed confrontation. A disruptive Trump presented Bannon with a golden opportunity.

Bannon was born into a family of Irish Catholics - all Kennedy Democrats - in Virginia in November 1953.

He was not political, he said, until an eight-year stint with the Navy starting in 1977, when he became a Reagan Republican in response to President Carter's handling of the Iran conflict.

A master of reinvention, he went on to work as an executive with the Goldman Sachs bank, before helping finance and produce Hollywood films and later emerging as a political Svengali.

His record in Hollywood can be described as patchy at best ("The business runs on talent relationships," one former colleague told the New Yorker. "He had this real will-to-power vibe that was so off-putting.")

But Bannon did strike gold in one big way - by negotiating a share of the profits in a new television show, Seinfeld, in 1993. The show ran for nine seasons and was widely syndicated - in November 2016, Forbes estimated that Bannon, if he owned only a 1% share in the show's profits, would have earned $32.6m (24m) by that point.

After returning to the US from Shanghai in 2008 feeling the Bush administration was a "disaster", Bannon was struck by what he described to the New Yorker as "this phenomenon called Sarah Palin". Bannon warmed to the brand of populism employed by the Alaskan governor picked as John McCain's Republican running mate in the 2008 presidential race.

That populist wave would come crashing to shore with Trump's participation in the 2016 election, a wave Bannon proudly rode the whole way. In Trump, he recognised a willing outlet for his idea that, according to Wolff, "the new politics was not the art of compromise, but the art of conflict".

Bannon had long talked up Trump's chances on Breitbart News Network, which he took over in 2012 after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart. Bannon considered Trump, according to Wolff's book, "a big warm-hearted monkey".

Like many of the businessman's cheerleaders, Bannon was eventually invited into his inner circle, becoming the CEO of the Trump campaign in August 2016.

Dishevelled, regularly unshaven, and prone to wearing two shirts at the same time, he was an unlikely candidate to work closely with Trump, who places a high value on appearance. But somehow it worked.

Bannon's economic nationalist outlook and his eagerness for a "deconstruction of the administrative state" - a tearing apart of the system of taxes and regulations that he believed had hindered the US over years - chimed with Trump's "Make America Great Again" plea.

Two days after his arrival, Bannon replaced Paul Manafort as campaign chairman.

Bannon's counterpart in the Democratic camp, Robby Mook, responded furiously: "Donald Trump has decided to double down on his most small, nasty and divisive instincts by turning his campaign over to someone who is best known for running a so-called news site that peddles divisive, sometimes racist... sometimes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."

The provocateur in Bannon will almost certainly have enjoyed the reaction to his appointment. Less than three months later, he'd have even more to celebrate.

Winning bigly

8 November 2016

Trump and Bannon thought as one in the last weeks of the campaign, to the extent that the Republican candidate would often demand: "Where's my Steve? Where's my Steve?", according to one former Trump aide.

In interviews after the event, Bannon said he always believed Trump would win. But not everyone else did, according to Michael Wolff's book. Indeed, in the weeks after the billionaire won, "he had come to credit Bannon with something like mystical powers" for having predicted the victory.

Days after the election, Trump named his trusted lieutenant as "chief strategist" - a newly created role - in his cabinet.

There were wide protests against the decision, and 169 members of the House - all Democrats - sent a letter to the president-elect asking him to withdraw Bannon's nomination, saying "bigotry, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia should have no place in our society, and they certainly have no place in the White House".

Bannon's vision was made clear in Trump's bleak inaugural address, which he wrote. Wolff says in his book it was "a Bannon-driven message to the other side that the country was about to undergo profound change... his take-back-the-country, America-first, carnage-everywhere vision of the country".

The "American carnage" speech painted a vision of a US with "mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation".

The full ramifications of Bannon's America First policy were made clear a week later, with Trump signing an executive order dreamt up by his chief strategist that banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from travelling to the US. It caught many White House staff unaware.

Bannon, Wolff writes, was "satisfied" at the move and the subsequent outrage. "He could not have hoped to draw a more vivid line between the two Americas - Trump's and liberals'," Wolff writes, adding that the timing of its release before a busy weekend was deliberate - so it could cause as much chaos as possible.

One word that regularly features in interviews with Bannon is "war". Trump HQ on election night was "the war room", the same name he gave to the Oval Office when Trump took over. When Bannon would go on to leave the White House, he said he was going to "war" on Trump's behalf.

For Bannon, disorder was the new order in the White House. He and Trump were creating conflict and confusion, and that suited Bannon just fine.

A seat at the big table

28 January 2017

Bye Bye Bannon (part one)

A humiliating loss

Bye Bye Bannon (part two)


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