The ex-strategist dishes against Trump: Many see this as a turning point for future U.S. politics. However, Bannon is being overestimated.
The U.S. media are already getting whiff of a controversy that can hardly be overexaggerated. “International crises will have to wait,” wrote The Atlantic, for the U.S. president, Donald Trump, finally has a new nemesis — one that functions perhaps as a greater provocateur than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The reason for all the fuss? The president’s former chief strategist and right-wing populist, Steve Bannon, has launched a frontal attack on Trump and his family in a new book.
Bannon describes his former boss as a president out of touch with reality, who is not taken seriously by his own advisers, who sloppily handles important information and who was afraid of his own electoral victory. Bannon called the behavior of Donald Trump Jr., who met with a Russian lawyer in the summer of 2016, "treacherous" and "unpatriotic," according to an early excerpt from “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.” Since then, the administration has tried to portray Bannon’s statements as petty and irrelevant. Trump directly attacked his former adviser, with whom he once amicably parted ways. According to the president, Bannon not only lost his job in the White House, but also his mind.
Political observers in the capital write that Trump created a monster via Bannon, whose dangerous potential went unrecognized. The New York Times writes that perhaps now we will see who of the two really has control over his base. Even The Washington Post concluded that this abrupt and angry rift has the potential to change politics in the country far beyond congressional elections in November.
Yet, this is by no means the slugfest between two populist titans that the media have portrayed it to be. This is, at best, a last attempt by Bannon to delay his decline into insignificance. Certainly, the alleged puppet master has long failed to achieve his own goals.
For a long time, the apocalyptic visionary who chose to use the people’s underlying hatred of the Washington elite and skepticism of global entanglements as the core of his agenda, was given a significant share of the credit in the surprising election of an outsider candidate from New York. There was talk of a political genius who recognized the mood of the country at the right moment and used it to his advantage. The website, Breitbart, which Bannon built and which helped mobilize frustrated voters, was portrayed as the voice of the “alt-right” movement* and as a serious threat to the mainstream media.
However, despite all the attention the media and the public have given him, on closer inspection, Bannon has little to show. In his six months as chief strategist at the White House, the populist has failed to push his agenda through. He was not capable of compromise. Instead, his short time at the White House was plagued with leaks and internal fighting. The so-called Muslim ban was a political disaster. His ideas for tax reform faded away and went unheard. He was removed from the National Security Council after a few weeks.
And even after his sudden dismissal in August (which was due in part to the large amount of media attention he enjoyed), the right-wing populist failed to advance his own goals. Bannon declared war on the Republican establishment and set a goal to replace established conservative representatives with his own fringe candidates. Within the party leadership, he nurtured unrest. Longtime senators like Bob Corker decided not to run for office again due to the dangers Bannon revolutionaries brought. It seemed at first that Bannon would be a real threat from the outside.
But again and again, Bannon’s nominees turned out to be politically unsellable and were rejected by American voters. First, in Virginia’s gubernatorial elections, which Bannon depicted as a referendum on his populist policy. Next in Alabama, where Roy Moore was entangled with sexual assault allegations and which ended with the first Democrat to win a senate seat in Alabama in 25 years. The supposed kingmaker, Bannon, was finally stripped of his mystique at this point. The party leadership lost its fear of the would-be revolutionary.
These defeats have also jeopardized Breitbart’s influence. The website has been in trouble for months. Last summer, numerous advertisers withdrew contributions. Important donors pulled away and distanced themselves publicly. This forced those responsible to temper their tone, get rid of controversial content and lay off reporters. A plan to expand into Europe was placed on hold. In October, the number of monthly readers was at 14.9 million; a year before it was at 22.9 million.
What’s more, Bannon can no longer count on his most important financier. In November, Robert Mercer, the hedge fund manager who helped finance Trump’s election campaign, publicly distanced himself from Bannon and transferred his shares in Breitbart to his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. Both had donated money to Bannon’s book and film projects, and for the election campaigns of his desired candidates.
Now, the attraction seems to be withering. On Thursday, The Washington Post quoted a confidant of the hedge fund manager who said that Bannon scared the Mercers away by announcing he would be able to count on the Mercers’ financial support should he decide to enter the race for the White House. It went on to say that after the most recent defeat in Alabama, the Mercers have no intention of financing Bannon’s future projects. In a statement on Thursday, Rebekah Mercer that Bannon’s recent actions and statements would not be supported.
There is little left for the former mastermind. The monster that Trump created is toothless. As such, this new attention doesn’t change anything. According to NPR, the public hungers for sensationalism and will keep itself busy with this small war between Trump and Bannon for a while — and then will forget Bannon forever.
*Editor’s note: The “alt-right” movement is an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism.