WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When President Donald Trump fired White House chief strategist and former campaign manager Steve Bannon on Friday, it was almost like bidding goodbye to a part of himself.
Trump’s most polarizing stances on matters such as immigration and national security closely tracked Bannon’s “America First” anti-globalist worldview.
Despite their close alignment, Trump was always reluctant to credit Bannon with the stunning electoral victory of November 2016, often noting Bannon, 63, came late to the campaign, joining only after Trump had secured the Republican nomination.
He rewarded Bannon, nonetheless, giving him a top job in the administration. But as the White House grew increasingly chaotic in the early months of Trump’s presidency, Bannon clashed with more mainstream advisers, including, most crucially, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump.
Trump was reportedly unhappy with the attention that Bannon got early on as the architect of Trump’s campaign, and with Bannon’s tendency to promote himself, as he operated an almost independent power centre within the West Wing.
Ultimately, Bannon wore out his welcome. Trump fired him at the urging of his new chief of staff, John Kelly, who has been working to reorganize the White House and limit access to Trump.
The dismissal could have political repercussions. Bannon was viewed as the administration’s conduit to Trump’s rabid political base. Bannon’s departure may antagonize some of Trump’s most passionate supporters, who fear that without Bannon, Trump will move closer to the Republican political establishment.
“We are extremely disappointed,” Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, a conservative advocacy group, said in a statement.
On specific policies, Bannon was credited with helping craft the administration’s “travel ban,” which restricted emigration to the United States from some mostly Muslim countries, as well as Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and the Paris global climate accord.
Bannon has been seen as wary of U.S. intervention abroad, arguing against sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
In recent months, Bannon has battled for influence inside the White House with Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, a tension that was destabilising Trump’s team of top advisers, senior officials have told Reuters.
Trump himself has suggested Bannon’s influence was overstated. While Bannon was viewed as perhaps responsible for Trump’s initial response to the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he blamed both sides for the confrontation, Trump said this week that he never spoke to Bannon about the matter.
Bannon may return to the provocateur role he played at the right-wing Breitbart News website, where he spearheaded its shift into a forum for the “alt-right,” a loose online confederation of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites. Under Bannon’s leadership, the Breitbart site presented a number of conspiracy theories about former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as Republicans deemed to be lacking in conservative bona fides.
Whether he returns to Breitbart and uses it to challenge the so-called “cucks” and “globalists” he disdains - and perhaps Trump himself - will be closely watched in coming weeks.
Bannon is a former U.S. Navy officer, Goldman Sachs investment banker and Hollywood producer.
Almost immediately after Bannon’s departure became public, Breitbart published a piece calling him “the conservative spine” of the administration and questioning whether Trump would now move in a more moderate direction.
Another Breitbart editor, Raheem Kassam, posted a picture of Bannon on Twitter with the caption Bannon 2020, seemingly suggesting that Bannon, not Trump, should be president.
Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish