AUG. 19, 2017 — A long, ugly slog of a week ended with some good news: Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist who has fanned President Donald Trump’s worst impulses, is gone.
Bannon’s departure is welcome news for the country because his brand of politics is divisive and repugnant.
As the former chairman of Breitbart News, Bannon was the Trump campaign’s link to the virulent alt-right. As a top Trump administration official, Bannon was a reminder that some white nationalists and other miscreants are part of Trump’s base.
A week after the violence in Charlottesville, Trump needed to send a message to counter his muddled, wrong-headed response to the racism and intolerance on display there.
Bannon’s ouster may be that message, even though Bannon says he resigned earlier this month before the Charlottesville ruckus.
Either way, the big question is: What happens next?
Several of Trump’s top advisers who came on board after the election are now gone.
If chief of staff Gen. John Kelly persuaded Trump to dump Bannon as part of his effort to reorganize a chaotic White House, we’ll take it as a small sign that the president can, at least when desperate, accept sensible advice. We hope that Bannon’s departure opens the way for Kelly to take more control and impose discipline on this reckless and undisciplined president. If not, we expect Kelly won’t last long in the West Wing, either.
We expect to read more about this decision, but not necessarily to know all the White House or Team Trump machinations that led to Friday’s announcement.
After Trump’s disastrous performance over the past week, he is increasingly isolated. He didn’t need the incendiary Bannon, with his well-earned collection of Washington foes, to make that situation worse. That said, Breitbart’s equally militant allies on the hard right are likely to rebel against what at this writing looks like a defenestration.
What does all of this mean for the president? Some appreciation but also more trouble, we’d wager.
Bannon rallied fairly early to Trump’s candidacy and his strategizing unarguably helped win the election. Now he’s on the street, unleashed, with stories to tell and no reputation for keeping his gripes to himself. His departure won’t ease widespread pressure on the White House over Trump’s pandering to extremists on the right. Yet that crowd, angered by this move, may prove more loyal to Bannon than to Trump.
Nor does Bannon’s departure ease the pressure on Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence and responsible Cabinet members to confront and challenge President Trump when (not if) he veers off course.
We hope, but can’t guarantee, that these voices of reason can influence a helter-skelter presidency.
This much we can guarantee: One less voice of the alt-right whispering in the president’s ear is a positive development.