Looks like Steve Bannon is out. Are you surprised?
Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election by embracing their shared nationalist impulses, departed the White House on Friday after a turbulent tenure in which he shaped the fiery populism of the president’s first seven months in office.
Mr. Bannon’s exit, the latest in a string of high-profile West Wing shake-ups, came as Mr. Trump is under fire for saying that “both sides” were to blame for the deadly violence at a Virginia rally last week. Critics of Mr. Bannon accused the president of channeling his chief strategist when he equated white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the left-wing protesters who opposed them.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
A caustic presence in a chaotic West Wing, Mr. Bannon frequently clashed with the president’s other aides as they fought over trade, the war in Afghanistan, taxes, immigration and the role of government. In an interview this week, Mr. Bannon mocked his colleagues, including Gary D. Cohn, one of the president’s chief economic advisers, saying they were “wetting themselves” out of a fear of radically changing trade policy.
Mr. Trump had recently grown weary of Mr. Bannon, complaining to other advisers that he believed his chief strategist had been leaking information to reporters and was taking too much credit for the president’s successes. The situation had become untenable, according to advisers close to Mr. Trump who were urging the president to remove Mr. Bannon — and, in turn, people close to Mr. Bannon were urging him to step down — long before Friday.
Mr. Bannon’s departure was met with widespread criticism from some conservative media outlets. Mr. Bannon immediately returned to Breitbart News, which during the campaign and early months of the Trump presidency served as clearinghouse for attacks on Mr. Trump’s adversaries.
He told The Weekly Standard: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”
Mr. Bannon’s removal is a victory for Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general whose mission is to impose discipline on White House personnel. Yet Mr. Bannon may still prove to be a confidant for the president, offering advice and counsel from the outside, much like other former advisers who still frequently consult with Mr. Trump. Mr. Bannon, in particular, had formed a philosophical alliance with Mr. Trump and they shared an unlikely chemistry.
The loss of Mr. Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative news media base that supported him over the past year.
Mr. Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Mr. Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire so-called nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House was led by Mr. Bannon.
On Tuesday at Trump Tower in New York, Mr. Trump refused to guarantee Mr. Bannon’s job security but defended him as “not a racist” and “a friend.”
“We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Bannon’s dismissal followed an Aug. 16 interview he initiated with a writer with whom he had never spoken, with the progressive publication The American Prospect. In it, Mr. Bannon mockingly played down the American military threat to North Korea as nonsensical: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
He also bad-mouthed his colleagues in the Trump administration, vowed to oust a diplomat at the State Department and mocked officials as “wetting themselves” over the consequences of radically changing trade policy.
Of the far right, he said, “These guys are a collection of clowns,” and he called it a “fringe element” of “losers.”
“We gotta help crush it,” he said in the interview, which people close to Mr. Bannon said he believed was off the record.
Privately, several White House officials said that Mr. Bannon appeared to be provoking Mr. Trump and that they did not see how the president could keep him on after the interview was published.
Following the interview, Mr. Bannon had made clear to allies that he expected to be back soon at the right-wing website Breitbart.com that he had steered before joining Mr. Trump’s campaign. He had dinner in New York City on Wednesday night with Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who is also Mr. Bannon’s chief patron, to discuss the future, according to a person briefed on the discussions.
Mr. Bannon’s departure was long rumored in Washington. Mr. Kelly, who was brought on as chief of staff for his ability to organize a chaotic staff, was said to have grown weary of the chief strategist’s long-running feud with Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser.
One White House official, who would not be named discussing the president’s thinking, said Mr. Trump wanted to remove Mr. Bannon after he ousted Reince Priebus as his chief of staff three weeks ago; Mr. Bannon had been aligned with Mr. Priebus. But Mr. Trump changed his mind as several defenders of Mr. Bannon warned the president that he risked losing supporters who saw Mr. Bannon as a conduit of their views.
Since then, Mr. Kelly has been evaluating Mr. Bannon’s status, according to the official. The president and Mr. Kelly have talked over the past several days and Mr. Bannon had planned to put his resignation in motion in the coming days, this person said.
Mr. Bannon also has been in a battle with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, since the spring.
Mr. Bannon, whose campaign against “globalists” was a hallmark of his tenure steering Breitbart, and Mr. Kushner had been allies throughout the transition process and through the beginning of the administration.
But their alliance ruptured as Mr. Trump elevated the roles of Gary D. Cohn, his top economic policy adviser and a former official at Goldman Sachs, and Dina Powell, a former Bush administration official who also worked on Wall Street. Mr. Cohn is a registered Democrat, and both he and Ms. Powell have been denounced by conservative media outlets as being antithetical to Mr. Trump’s populist message.