The long knives are out for Steve Bannon. Again. Or maybe it’s still. Every month the media narrative pits the president’s Chief Strategist against some other member of his inner circle. Bannon’s bete noire used to be Jared Kushner, but for the past few weeks the stories have all been about an internal feud between Bannon and H.R. McMaster.
NPR’s Morning Edition asked me to join them to discuss the debate going on in the White House because of my relationship with Bannon. My answer was simple: he’s a principled and tenacious former Naval officer who wants to advance Donald Trump’s agenda. And if there’s a debate, it should be about how best to implement that agenda. You can listen to that interview here:
Naturally enough, they asked if I thought Bannon’s job was in jeopardy. How could they not? Especially in light of McMaster’s appearance on CBS Sunday where he said he could work with “anybody” in the White House but when pushed refused to say that “anybody” included Bannon. Everyone got the joke: McMaster wants Bannon gone and used his television appearance to let the nation know it.
There has been an ongoing battle—a war really—to undermine the president and overturn the election. The campaign of character assassination waged against Bannon is one of the fronts in that war. But neither Bannon nor even Trump are the real target. The war is against the 63 million people who voted for Trump and, more importantly, his agenda. These forgotten Americans had been cowed into silence or tricked into supporting candidates who sold them out as soon as they arrived in Washington for years. But in 2016 they woke up and voted for a pro-America and pro-American agenda. They wanted a candidate who would change the way Washington works because Washington is broken. It is parochial, self-serving, corrupt, and heedless of the rights and interests of average Americans. If you’re not connected to the courtier class you’re out of luck.
The equation is simple: What’s good for the president is bad for the D.C. establishment and what’s bad for the president is good for the D.C. Establishment that wants desperately to go back to business as usual. “Vote all you want, but we’re the ones in charge.”
Steve Bannon understands that dynamic and has been a keen supporter of the president and his agenda—which is why he has been the object of sustained attack since last year.
The president’s political enemies both Democrats and Republicans believe that if they destroy Bannon they can alienate the president from his base which will see it as a betrayal of what they voted for. It will leave the president more isolated in the White House with fewer people who were with him during the campaign and who believe in his agenda of reducing foreign military adventurism, moral imperialism, a pro-worker trade policy, and a pro-citizen immigration policy.
I think they’re right about that. Bannon is one of the few representatives of the political movement that elected Trump holding a high position in the White House. But that’s not the media narrative—for them it’s a personality driven Game of Thrones with daily installments.
Those stories are salacious, but not helpful when we should be talking about which of the perspectives—which of those agendas—vying for ascendancy in the White House is good for the country.
Do we really want more military involvement in the Middle East? Bannon doesn’t. And most of the people who voted for Trump don’t.
Do we want to be ruled by the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats of the deep state or by the people and their representatives? Bannon has outlined a strategy to dismantle the deep state.
Do we want to live in a country that believes that citizenship and a healthy middle class are the essential building blocks of a healthy polity or one in which America becomes a plantation state of rulers and ruled? Bannon describes himself as an “economic nationalist” who wants government policy to favor American workers.
For base Trump voters, Bannon is their voice in a White House they see as increasingly populated by representatives of the very establishment they voted to evict. Perception plays a large role in politics and symbols matter—especially in a political climate rife with suspicion and mistrust. That’s why I told NPR that I think any move to fire Bannon is more dangerous to the future of the Trump Administration than anything Robert Mueller can do.