Steve Bannon loathed Paul Ryan, largely because Ryan represented the old guard that Bannon wanted to destroy. He wanted Ryan humiliated and taken out of office. To Bannon, Ryan was the part of the Republican Party that philosophically preventing a complete push to the Alt-Right extreme that Bannon himself represented. Donald Trump had a slightly different view. He also disliked Paul Ryan, but not because of politics or anything quite that deep, In the end he disliked Ryan because Paul Ryan did not support Donald Trump’s campaign. In addition to simply resisting Trump, Ryan actually gained a moral credibility for doing so. Ryan benefited, therefore Trump lost. Donald Trump could not abide losing.
Paul Ryan’s plan, which backfired, was to let Trump win the Republican nomination. The idea was that Trump would then lose the General Election and this would put Ryan in a position to lead the Republican Party moving forward. It was reasonable gamble that backfired in a terrible way. Trump’s victory was a repudiation of Ryan’s ideals and a validation of Steve Bannon’s vision. The extreme right wing of the party now had a majority and a hero to rally around.
Bannon wanted to publicly humiliate Ryan as the next step in order to consolidate the takeover of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, Trump was no longer on board with this. Seeing a chastened and sycophantic Paul Ryan bow to him was enough to get Trump to come around on him. In addition, Trump just was not a details person. Having Ryan around meant that someone else could take care of things that Trump himself didn’t want to be bothered with. This was how Donald Trump came to back Paul Ryan’s agenda. As long as Trump had a win, he didn’t care about much else.
Donald Trump really didn’t care about the Republican ideal of repealing Obamacare. He actually didn’t care about health in general and found the subject distasteful. Roger Ailes once remarked, “No one in the country, or on Earth, has given less thought to health insurance than Donald.” This actually helped him with voters because all the other candidates were hammering on a complex issue that Trump himself avoided whenever possible. This also led to various outbursts that scared the Republicans. He once openly pondered in a meeting why Medicare couldn’t just simply cover every body. It was Bannon who kept Trump in line. Repealing Obamacare was a campaign pledge and Trump had to fulfill it or lose the base.
Paul Ryan came in with his own solution, “Repeal and Replace”. This would satisfy the base and the party, but also take care of some campaign promises that Trump himself had made, off the cuff, with regards to health care. Trump agreed for the same reason he agreed to anything. Someone seemed to know more about something he didn’t care about and was willing to take care of the details for him. This had the effect of splitting the team. Jared and Ivanka thought keeping Obamacare was a good idea. Paul Ryan wanted Repeal and Replace and Steve Bannon wanted a straight Repeal. Trump himself just wanted to get out of an obligation, so when Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus combined forces on Repeal and Replace, he went for it.
For his part, Steve Bannon realized he had engage in counter-operations and Breitbart backup if he was going to keep things on track.
Steve Bannon really hated the modern politicians. He modeled himself after the hard-hitting politicians he remembered from the 60s and thought the modern incarnation of Washington as weak. Paul Ryan was an example of the modern politician and, for his part, really only cared about tax reform and only cared about health care because it led him to tax reform. Everything else he left to the lobbyists to work with. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a vote-counter and he was constantly assuring the White House that there was nothing to worry about. It was Katie Walsh, a senior staff member, who began to get worried but the rest of the team ignored her and she was blocked from presenting her case to the President to get him involved.
Trump kept dismissing the Russia probe as “The Russian thing”, but on March 20, James Comey gave his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on the Russia probe and its progress. In doing so, he gave validity to the narrative and ensured that the narrative was not going to go away. Jared Kushner kept asking Trump what could be done about Comey. Steve Bannon was arguing for discipline and strategy. He agreed that Comey needed to be dealt with, but his fear was that the White House would make things worse by lashing out without a disciplined plan. Trump himself didn’t think that way and essentially seemed to believe that if he got rid of Comey everything else would go away with him.
In fact, Trump was a bit stymied by Comey. Trump believed he could woo or charm anybody who he came across. He operated by the law of averages; try to charm enough people and sooner or later someone comes along. Trump felt victorious when he was successful and forgot the times when he was not. He was thus certain he could charm Comey into doing what he wanted. When Comey gave his testimony, Trump couldn’t understand why. His only explanation was that Comey was a media whore. Essentially, the only way to explain Comey’s actions was to attribute the same characteristics of Trump himself.
As the health care debate came closer to a disaster, Bannon tried to hit multiple birds with one stone. He insisted to reporters that the health care vote was not the story to focus on, but the Russia probe. He then suggested that, in investigating the Russia probe, reporters should focus on Jared Kushner.
By mid-March, the Repeal and Replace health care bill was clearly in trouble. Bannon, as was his tendency, saw this is heroically apocalyptic terms; there was the Deep State setting up the Trump administration for failure and there was Bannon, fighting to usher in a new era of alt-right political dominance. Bannon saw himself as highly skilled political agent and believed he had the chops to impose his will. His first order of business was to isolate Paul Ryan, Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, as well as any forces aligned with them.
This meant forcing a vote on the health care bill. Bannon would use this as a statement on Paul Ryan’s leadership and force him out. For whatever reason, though, Trump allowed the bill to be pulled before a vote could happen. Bannon was furious and Ryan later leaked that the Trump asked for the bill to be pulled. Bannon began a campaign of phone calls to reporters, insisting that Paul Ryan was on his way out.
Katie Walsh was disgusted with the results and vented to Jared Kushner, telling him she wanted to leave. She outlined the rivalries, the incompetence and the lack of a central mission or focus. Jared took away from this that Walsh needed to be discredited immediately and leaked that she was a leaker and had to be pushed out. It was ten weeks into the new administration and two senior members of the Trump team, Michael Flynn and Katie Walsh were out. Not only that, it was specifically Walsh’s job to actually get things done.