It’s official: Steve Bannon was fired from his role as the President’s Chief Strategist earlier today.
But before anyone starts thinking this signals that the administration will now pivot to the center, you need to stop and think about something. Bannon wasn’t much of a strategist. Rather, he was the guy who came aboard the Trump Train after last year’s Republican National Convention to help streamline and polish Donald Trump’s existing “America First” positions into something more palatable to the general electorate. In terms of strategy, he proved (at best) to be a man playing checkers on the “swamp” chessboard. Otherwise, the President would have actual legislative victories he could point to as wins – and not be where he is, almost 8 months in. Which is to say, his efforts to remake Obamacare into Trumpcare defeated, with no movement on the other big campaign promises, either: the border wall still without funding (and Mexico thumbing their noses at us), no movement on tax reform or infrastructure legislation, and efforts to renegotiate our trade deals actually going backwards.
However, this is the second major administration official in two weeks to cross the new Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and find themselves being sacked as a result. If nothing else, I’m certain other acolytes who may have thoughts of taking similar approaches – of operating the way they did for the campaign and the first 6 1/2 months of this Presidency – are having misgivings now. Kelly has made his imprimatur on the administration. Whether or not the President can abide Kelly’s style and handling remains an unresolved issue, but it’s apparent that Kelly is running the White House as he sees fit. For now, anyway.
Trump will, of course, continue to be Trump. He will continue to push his agenda, focusing on the culture wars that originally earned him electoral support. His economic agenda is actually pretty much straight from the Republican playbook (tax reform, job growth, etc) and he will find congressional support for that, regardless of whatever else he does.
As for Bannon, expect him to return to his previous vocation, agitating for a nationalist agenda. Near term, I foresee him excoriating lawmakers over the border wall funding (given the proximity of budgeting and the debt ceiling on the calendar), and making Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s lives miserable. Longer term, he’ll look to undermine the forces in the West Wing that undermined him from the outside. Expect to see all kinds of hit pieces on Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, along with Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I also suspect “normal” conservatives, such as Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, could find themselves with banner headlines on Breitbart or the National Enquirer. As for the President’s economic team, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin were part of the “establishment” long before the term became fashionable. Only a fool would think Bannon doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for them.
Removing Bannon won’t end the chaos surrounding the administration. If anything, the noise is about to get louder and more ferocious (although it will almost be funny to watch the NY Times and CNN suddenly forced into defending people like Perry and Mnuchin). Strap in, it’s going to be an even bumpier ride.