Within one week, the man who once was considered one of the greatest threats to mainstream conservatives in the Republican Party and the arch-nemesis of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was reduced to a flaming wreck after being exposed to the “fire and fury” of President Donald Trump. This unfortunate man, if you haven’t figured it out already, is Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon was always one of the most controversial members of Trump’s White House and “inner circle.” His connections to Breitbart and his past commentary caused the media to first portray him as a white supremacist and an extreme conspiracy theorist who constantly fretted about the “deep state” and “globalism.” But inside the White House, Bannon received the reputation of a heavy weight and was constantly battling for Trump’s ear and attention with Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. However his success rate seems to be pretty sparse as his first and major accomplishment, rolling out the travel ban, was quickly blocked by the courts and mired in legal disputes. He did manage to convince Trump, it seems, to pull out of the Paris Accords but did not manage to dissuade Trump from bombing Syria in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
On the outside however, the American press began to portray Bannon as the “shadow President” and the real force behind Trump’s success. The media’s idea of Bannon as a shadow president was probably rooted in the fact that they still couldn’t get over the idea that Trump had actually won the election on his own and they also may have gotten that idea from Bannon himself who, despite calling the press the “opposition party”, had no problem talking to them. Nonetheless, Trump seemed to immediately smart at the notion that he was somehow a product of Bannon instead of his own genius. As early as April, Trump began to lightly snub Bannon, suggesting he was a “good guy” who didn’t play a very pivotal role in his campaign.
Despite an informal demotion and increased isolation in the West Wing, Bannon still seemed to have some measured influence on President Trump. But as the Trump White House continued to leak like a sieve, Trump brought on Anthony Scarmucci, the human flamethrower, as his new communication director. While Scaramucci gave many members of Trump’s administration a verbal thrashing, he specifically targeted Bannon in an interview with Ryan Lizza saying, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock, I’m not trying to build my own brand off the [expletive] strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” While his comments were vulgar and politically charged, Scaramucci did later turn out to be right about Steve Bannon being hungry for attention, a claim Trump himself affirmed in his disavowal of his former ally.
A month later in August of 2017, Bannon jumped ship after Trump’s new chief of staff, General John Kelly, restricted access to the President and that was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for Bannon. Claiming he could be more effective on the outside, Bannon retreated to his old position as chairman of Breitbart and quickly began building the groundwork for his own offensive in 2018 where he designed to unseat Republicans that he deemed were too “moderate” or didn’t buy into his brand of ignorant nationalist populism.
Bannon began his first attack by throwing his weight behind Roy Moore, who was running in the special election to fill Jeff Session’s Senate seat in Alabama. Luther Strange, the incumbent appointed senator, had the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a reliable Republican but McConnell’s support of Strange became a liability for Strange when Bannon and Moore both cast him as the establishment “swamp” choice. Even though McConnell recruited Trump to endorse Strange and hold a rally for him, Moore ended up beating him in the Republican primary. This victory energized Bannon and made him seem like a terrifying force to be reckoned with while emboldening other anti-establishment Republicans across the nation like Kelli Ward in Arizona who was angling to unseat Senator Jeff Flake on the grounds that he didn’t blindly bow to and support President Trump.
Trump too clearly voiced frustration over being on the losing side and seemed to be taking Bannon’s calls again. And as Moore hit rough waters when allegations of him molesting young girls surfaced, Trump followed Bannon to openly support Moore in the final days of the campaign. But the new Bannon-Trump alliance seems to have only been for a short moment and was shattered when Moore was defeated by Doug Jones, a Democrat, in Alabama. Moore’s embarrassing defeat was cast as a defeat of the GOP but was more precisely considered a defeat for Bannon and a severe setback for his anti-establishment war he had tried to wage. And for the second time, Trump was on the losing side. Trump very clearly saw Bannon as to blame for convincing him to support Moore in the first place and their relationship had fallen into disrepair. This is the climate into which Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury exploded.
In statements to Michael Wolff and according to “other” sources, Bannon made a host of comments about Trump’s administration which included calling both Jared Kushner and Don Jr treasonous while saying Ivanka Trump was as “dumb as bricks.” With family always being off-limits for President Trump, this clearly was the last straw for him. In a written statement, President Trump reiterated the claim that Bannon had nothing to do with his campaign victory. But Trump went further, saying when he fired Bannon (Bannon had actually resigned), “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Trump then used his favorite insult by branding Bannon as a loser and mocking him for supporting a losing candidate like Roy Moore. He also ripped Bannon for his hypocrisy in talking to the press despite branding them as the opposition party.
But Trump’s most savage response was when he said the following damning statement about Bannon.
“…Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.”
~President Donald Trump (1/3/2018)
And in classical Trump style, Trump then branded Steve Bannon as “sloppy” on Twitter on two different occasions. Some of Steve Bannon’s staunchest supporters and financiers, the Mercer family, also cut their ties with him suddenly and claimed they hadn’t communicated with him in months while rumors circulate that even Breitbart may decide to fire him, as an olive branch to President Trump. While establishment Republicans and Democrats alike rejoice at the demise of this agitator, Bannon’s collapse was not the only Trump Administration casualty and likely won’t be the last.
In fact, Bannon’s fall highlights a significant and concerning flaw in Trump’s MAGA movement. And that is the fact that, to put it simply, the entire “Make America Great Movement” is nothing other than a cult following around President Trump. After all, when respected Republican senators like Jeff Flake or Bob Corker criticized President Trump, they were quickly demonized and forced into early retirement. And when a popular Trump surrogate like Steve Bannon criticizes Trump’s family, he is excommunicated. The MAGA movement is not about draining the swamp, building the wall, putting America first, or accomplishing anything. Instead, it is simply about Trump. It’s players rise and fall on the basis of their loyalty to Trump, not to a set of ideals.
And while Trump’s most diehard fans may still be deluded into thinking he plans on accomplishing everything he promised, the reality will be that Trump is only there to win in anyway possible. This means that no matter how conservative or nationalistic you are, your worth in the MAGA movement is determined on your respect for the movement’s leader. This kind of politics, built around personal loyalty instead of ideas, is more akin to what happens in third-world developing democracies and dictatorships, not a first-world centuries old constitutional republic like ours. And just like Bannon, the MAGA movement will one day fade away with Trump and will feel like a psychedelically included dream to his supporters who will be left behind in the dust, dazed at what they just stumbled through.
There’s only room for one person in the MAGA movement and that is Donald Trump.