The specter of Steve Bannon may loom over 2020 Trump campaign

The specter of Steve Bannon may loom over 2020 Trump campaign
© Greg Nash

If Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonCongress should strengthen laws outlawing domestic government propaganda Stephen Bannon: Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg may still run in 2020 Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump MORE can voice doubts as to whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE is not racist, then do not expect the rest of the United States to be more sympathetic to the president on that score. To be clear, earlier doubts from Bannon have since dissipated as the election draws closer, while Anthony ScaramucciAnthony ScaramucciScaramucci calls Trump a 'traitor' to the US Scaramucci: Trump is 'gone' and 'done' Trump blasts 'Mr. Tough Guy' Bolton: 'He made some very big mistakes' MORE, another exiled White House veteran, has supplanted Bannon as the latest punching bag for Trump.

In the past, Bannon, the man who played an outsized role in engineering the 2016 upset, has acknowledged his own misgivings about Trump and bigotry. A key source for Michael Wolff for his blockbusters “Fire and Fury” and “Siege,” Bannon discounted to Wolff the probability of Trump being anti-Semitic. When it came to African Americans, however, Bannon took a different take. As Wolff framed things in “Siege,” Bannon was actually “less confident” that Trump was not racist.

Apparently, so too are others. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, about half of voters surveyed, 51 percent to be precise, believe the president to be racist. The public sentiment has grown over time and shows no sign of abating. A subsequent HuffPost/YouGov poll tells a similar tale about Trump and white nationalism.


This congealing perception is the byproduct of the agnosticism Trump showed over Charlottesville, his recent tweetstorms, and his earlier references to Mexicans as rapists, among other memorable public pronouncements. Beyond that, trashing Elijah Cummings of Baltimore as racist as Trump did and telling the “squad” to “go home” is not a particularly good look. At a certain point, folks who are elected president are expected to start sounding “presidential.”

Then there is Trump pushing the “birtherism” movement against Barack Obama and that episode from the 1970s, when Trump allegedly refused to rent apartments to black tenants and was then sued for housing discrimination by Justice Department during the Nixon administration. That is more than a 40 year run for those who are counting.

Against this backdrop, Trump cannot shake his reputation. It is the one label that evokes his rage like no other. When Trump declares that he is the “least racist” person, it is tacit acknowledgement that he has a problem on that score and, if the polls and White House chatter are to be believed, he is not wrong. Antipathy toward Trump on race is pronounced among African Americans, women, and white voters with a college degree. In other words, the same electoral coalition that helped flip control of the House in 2018 does not take kindly to the president.

While Midwest suburbs may be pleased with the Trump tax cuts, the moms of Southern Methodist University are offended by his mien, and they are hardly alone. These days, even the “Mooch” thinks that Trump has gone too far. As he put it, “For the last 3 years I have fully supported this president. Recently he has said things that divide the country in a way that is unacceptable. So I didn’t pass the 100% litmus test. Eventually he turns on everyone and soon it will be you and then the entire country.” Unsurprisingly, Scaramucci has earned the ire of his former boss.

All this brings us back to Bannon. In the days following the publication of “Fire and Fury,” Trump banished Bannon from the proverbial kingdom, and gave him the moniker “Sloppy Steve.” But these days Trump enthuses about Bannon, calling him his star student and tweeting, “Nice to see that one of my best pupils is still a giant Trump fan. Steve joined me after I won the primaries, but I loved working with him!” His pupil? Not exactly. Back in the day, Trump would walk the halls of the conservative Freedom Summit pining for Bannon, according to “Devil’s Bargain” by Bloomberg correspondent Joshua Green, asking “Where’s my Steve?”

Apparently, Trump and Bannon have reconciled. Last weekend, Bannon forgot his own doubts about the prejudices of the president, and told a talk radio host that opponents of Trump “realize that they can’t defeat him on the policies so they’re going to smear him as being a racist, a white supremacist, all of this stuff, and I don’t think any of it holds water.” Note the present tense. Let bygones be bygones. Expect Bannon to return to the Trump campaign before Election Day 2020.

Lloyd Green worked as the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush presidential campaign and later served in the Justice Department. He is now the managing member of research and analytics firm Ospreylytics.