White House Senior Advisor Steve Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Donald Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center...
JONATHAN ERNST

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, exits stage right

At his now-infamous press conference this week, Donald Trump was asked if he still has confidence in Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist. The president’s perspective seemed pretty clear.

“Well, we’ll see,” Trump said. “Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person…. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

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Keep this in mind when reading today’s big news out of the White House.

Steve Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist, is leaving President Donald Trump’s administration, two senior White House officials told NBC News.

Bannon’s departure brings to a close his rocky tenure in the West Wing in which he clashed with many of Trump’s other top aides, including the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For Trump’s progressive critics, there’s reason to see this as a positive development. Trump’s campaign adopted a more radical and nationalistic posture when Bannon joined the team, and his role as the president’s chief strategist meant Bannon’s brand of extremism had a high-profile advocate in the West Wing.

And if Bannon’s ouster was motivated by Trump’s desire to be a more mainstream president, that’d be even more encouraging. But that’s almost certainly not what today’s news is all about.

Bannon fell out of favor with the president because Bannon started sharing the spotlight – and Trump expects those in his orbit to remain in the shadows, leaving the glory to him.

There was a joke that made the rounds in early February that Bannon was already in trouble because the aide was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Trump would be outraged, the joke went, because only he’s allowed to be on the cover of Time magazine.

Except the joke reflected reality. The New York Times reported in April, “Mr. Bannon’s Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing’s only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda – and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the ‘President Bannon’ puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.”

Soon after, Trump said in reference to Bannon, “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist.”

It mirrors what Trump said this week: he expects to get all the credit, for everything, at all times. Bannon had an adverse effect on the president’s ego, which meant his departure was inevitable.

One of the key elements worth watching now is not the White House’s change in direction, which seems unlikely, but what Bannon’s allies do in response to his ouster. When Bannon ran Breitbart News, he famously described it as “the platform for the alt-right,” and many of those who identify with that brand of radical politics saw Bannon as their key ally in the West Wing.

With Bannon out, those far-right activists won’t be pleased.

Donald Trump and White House

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, exits stage right