The Memo: Bannon falls to earth

The Memo: Bannon falls to earth
© Greg Nash

Stephen Bannon was ousted from the helm of Breitbart News on Tuesday, marking a new low in an extraordinary fall. 

Just a year ago, Bannon had been approaching the zenith of his power. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE, whose shock election victory Bannon took credit for masterminding, was about to take office. Bannon had already been named chief strategist, and was seen as having equal standing to incoming chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusTrump blasts Scaramucci as 'incapable' Trump taps Sean Spicer to join Naval Academy board of visitors Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender MORE.

Since then, he has lost his position at the White House and aligned himself with a far-right GOP Senate candidate who lost in an upset to a Democrat in Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the nation. 

Now he has been pushed out of the news organization that gave him political heft.

One big question is whether Bannon will be permanently confined to the political margins or can find a pathway back to a position of influence. 

Bannon has always seen his own endeavors in grandiose terms.

He portrays himself as a populist tribune who provided the intellectual framework for “Trumpism.” According to this thesis, he has fought for marginalized, patriotic, blue-collar conservatives against a moneyed, corrupt and ideologically timorous elite. 

But that self-regard only deepens the animus against him, even from some fellow Republicans, who regard him as little more than an opportunist who got lucky. 

When he was pushed out of the White House last August, Bannon declared, “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over.” 

But Breitbart was Bannon’s main vehicle for advancing that movement — and ensuring his own prominence within it.  

In his first tenure at Breitbart, before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign, Bannon enjoyed commercial and political success. To his supporters, he gave the conservative site verve and flair. Others say he encouraged Breitbart to engage in nativism and racism. 

Bannon always vehemently denied those charges, though he did once proudly describe Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right.” 

It’s not clear how Bannon would find such prominence again. His main political asset in recent times was simple: his proximity to the president of the United States. Even after he left the White House, he was at pains to note that he remained in contact with Trump.

But that relationship imploded in the wake of the release of excerpts from Michael Wolff’s new book about the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury.” 

In a quote that echoed around the political world, Bannon described as “treasonous” a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting attended by a Russian lawyer, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr; his son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report Trump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia Trump administration releases new 'public charge' rule making it easier to reject immigrants MORE and then-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrial of ex-Obama White House counsel suddenly postponed Top Mueller probe prosecutor to join Georgetown Law as lecturer DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews MORE.

Bannon ultimately issued a statement intended to clarify what he meant. Characteristically, it was neither an apology nor a denial — merely an expression of admiration for President Trump and his eldest son, and an assertion that he had been referring only to Manafort. 

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Bannon allies in recent days suggested that he had been stung by Wolff, that the White House had overreacted and that a reconciliation with Trump would come eventually. 

But the strategist was never able to recover from a Trump statement that blasted him as having “lost his mind.” 

A former Trump adviser told The Hill that the issuance of that statement amounted to a “time of death” for Bannon. 

At Breitbart, the writing was on the wall for Bannon after one of his main benefactors, Rebekah Mercer, criticized him in public remarks. Mercer, the daughter of billionaire conservative donor Robert Mercer, is a significant shareholder in Breitbart.

“My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements,” Mercer said in the statement last Thursday. 

Bannon is hardly out of options. If he chose to write his own memoir of his time with Trump, publishers would fling open their checkbooks. A role as a media commentator is also plausible.

But for now, Bannon is the man who fell to earth, having reached almost unimaginable heights.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.