When Katie Walsh told Steve Bannon he was leaving, he admitted that he felt just as trapped as she had. At ten weeks in, Bannon’s control of Trump and the Trump agenda had fallen apart. Part of the blame was Steve Bannon himself. Antisocial, maladjusted, cranky and old, he had to work hard to get along with others and often failed.
All the same, Steve Bannon felt this was his destiny and that it was his brilliance that had manifested the Trump presidency. He believed in a literal red-vs-blue split in the electorate. An ideological war where one side had to lose for the other to win. For Steve Bannon, that side was any side that hewed towards the economic nationalism and protective geopolitical isolation he thought of when he thought back to the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. The only person besides Bannon that didn’t think this was completely off-the-wall crazy was Donald Trump. Everyone else just couldn’t go along with it.
Donald Trump was the wildcard in this. In his darker moods, he aligned quite closely with Bannon’s ideas. All other times, he went along with whatever gratified him the most. This was the part everyone else understood. When Trump was happy, more centrist politics could be argued and won. The Jared and Ivanka side of the team could take over.
The failure of the the health care bill had weakened Bannon’s side of the team. Trump couldn’t allow any blame for himself, so he heaped in on Bannon. Denigrating others was Trump’s idea of fun, so Bannon became a convenient target. Part of the fault really was with Steve Bannon. His path to his envisioned future went straight through Donald Trump. Trump was the only game to play, but Bannon kept getting in his own way when trying to play it. For one thing, Steve Bannon understood that Trump did not like to be upstaged in public. Despite this, Bannon’s name and face was appearing everywhere. He had his own press operation and a media-savvy egotist like Trump was never going to not be aware of that. In addition, Bannon simply could not keep his mouth shut. He was happy to dish out quotes and relay insults on anyone who caught his fancy with a particular focus on the Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter.
Trump laid into Bannon so much that every media outlet was predicting Bannon’s ouster. The attacks were always person, but Trump never really went after Bannon’s political views. Steve Bannon’s position in the White House was weakened to the point where he, the man who empowered ethno-populism in modern politics, had to answer to and was otherwise undermined by the Jared/Ivanka wing of rich and entitled Democrats.
Donald Trump’s presidency was marked as the most politically zealous and the least. That is to say, Trump himself had no particular ideological views besides winning, but members of his team were true believers of one idea or another. Enter the Mercers. Of all the rich donors in politics, the Mercers were the least softened to harsh reality. Unlike many donors who picked the candidate most likely to win, the Mercers threw good money after bad until they got what they wanted. With Donald Trump in power, all their dreams had come true and they weren’t going to let the architect of their success, Steve Bannon, leave the White House without a fight.
Trump hated discussions involving personnel problems. Such discussions focused on people other than himself. The problem was that he was having too much fun ridiculing Bannon and he owed too much of his campaign to the Mercers. He didn’t like them, either. He thought they were creepy. The patriarch, Bob Mercer would look at him and not say anything and he didn’t like being in the same room as the man or his daughter. He understood, however, that he couldn’t cross them. They had money, financed Breitbart and with Steve Bannon could cause a world of trouble for Donald J. Trump.
Rupert Murdoch had been appraised of the situation by Jared Kushner and was advising that Steve Bannon had to go. He felt that the Jared/Ivanka side of the administration was probably the only thing saving the world from both Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Jared and Ivanka, for their part, wanted to turn the administration into a pure family operation. Unfortunately, the other side of the argument was Roger Ailes, who told Trump flat-out that he absolutely could not part with Steve Bannon now that both had come so far. The underlying fear was that if Steve Bannon left, he would return to Breitbart and take Trump’s base with him. Without that support, Trump was basically screwed.
Bannon was beginning to break under the pressure. What he never understood is that, sooner or later, Trump sours on everybody. It was the Mercers who saved Steve Bannon, however. They viewed Bannon as integral to the foundation of a world they had been trying to buy for years. By late March, a deal was formed. Steve Bannon would not be fired. Bannon’s standing in the White House didn’t change, but that didn’t matter. Steve Bannon was sure that Jared and Ivanka’s own ineptitude would do them in.
In compensation for not ejecting Bannon, Trump enhanced the roles of Jared and Ivanka. By March 27, Jared was head of the Office of American Innovation. Regardless of what was said about the mission of this office, the true value was in the staff, most of who did not believe in Bannon’s ideas. It was Kushner’s own team and it was meant to enhance him and diminish Bannon. Two days later, Ivanka became an official advisor to the President. Jared and Ivanka had finally made the White House a family operation. What is more, Trump rarely disagreed with his family and often enthusiastically supported them. Bannon, however, felt that, deep down, he was connected to the pulse of Trump’s true beliefs. If he could tap that deep underlying rage, Trump would do what he wanted.