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Stephen Bannon: Presidential Confidant, Puppet Master or Rotten Apple?

Stephen Bannon
Stephen Bannon: Presidential Confidant, Puppet Master or Rotten Apple?

Bannon is inside Trump’s inner circle, a position of immense power. What do we know about him? More importantly what should we know about him?

Who is Stephen Kevin Bannon? He is 63 years old, well educated, married and divorced three times, and in his past has been a Navy lieutenant, an investment banker, the Breitbart News executive who proudly declared “we’re the platform for the alt-right”, and Trump campaign CEO. He is now a considerable force within the White House, and therein lies many questions.

Exactly what Bannon’s place is within the Trump administration is open to conjecture. Officially he is a Senior Counselor to the President but he may well be far more than that – for better or worse.

Presidential Confidant?

Using the strictest definition – “a close friend or associate to whom secrets are confided or with whom private matters and problems are discussed” – certainly Bannon may be considered a confidant of Trump. But in politics, the strict definition is rarely applicable, and presidential confidants are people with whom the President has a long history.

Such does not appear to be the case with Bannon and Trump. It seems far more plausible that Bannon’s managerial push of Breitbart News to become an unabashed online cheerleader for Trump landed Bannon the campaign CEO job that segued into his current seat at the table in the West Wing.

Confidant also does not convey images of the reported backdoor manner in which Bannon got his boss to put him on the principals’ committee of the National Security Council. A move that apparently annoyed Trump according to FOX News and others.

President Trump was reportedly not fully briefed on the executive order he signed that allowed his chief strategist Steve Bannon a seat at the meetings of the country’s top national security efforts.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Bannon has been telling allies that he and the White House policy director, Stephen Miller, have a window to push through their vision of Trump’s economic policies.

Trump was frustrated over the executive order and reportedly demanded to be looped in on the executive orders earlier in the drafting process. According to the Times, Trump demanded that his chief of staff Reince Priebus to come up with a fundamental approach to executive orders.

Advisor? Sure. Counselor? Certainly. Confidant? It seems a stretch to go that far.

Puppet Master?

TIME Magazine recently featured Bannon on its cover with the moniker “The Great Manipulator” and took the opportunity to share some opinions from former Bannon colleagues.

“He is legitimately one of the worst people I’ve ever dealt with,” says former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro. “He regularly abuses people. He sees everything as a war. Every time he feels crossed, he makes it his business to destroy his opponent.”

Another former Breitbart employee and conservative commentator calls Bannon “one of the worst people on God’s green Earth.”

Harsh words to be sure but then again this is politics, and that means a certain demeanor is demanded if one is to be successful. That said, governing in today’s world requires nuance and the ability (and desire) to see beyond just the immediate issue. There are no simple decisions when cascading impacts can have real consequences in areas easily overlooked when haste is the rule not thoughtfulness. Bannon may be long on the demeanor but if he’s short on nuance and thoughtfulness he could become a liability, not just to the administration but the country, even the world.

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The hastiness of Bannon’s decision making may have been on full display as a principal architect of several questionable moves right out of the gate by his boss. The New York Times was very direct in their assessment of Mr. Bannon, and his aggressive style, in a recent editorial.

Mr. Bannon supercharged Breitbart News as a platform for inciting the alt-right, did the same with the Trump campaign and is now repeating the act with the Trump White House itself. That was perhaps to be expected, though the speed with which President Trump has moved to alienate Mexicans (by declaring they would pay for a border wall), Jews (by disregarding their unique experience of the Holocaust) and Muslims (the ban) has been impressive. Mr. Trump never showed much inclination to reach beyond the minority base of voters that delivered his Electoral College victory, and Mr. Bannon, whose fingerprints were on each of those initiatives, is helping make sure he doesn’t.

If President Trump is relying heavily on Mr. Bannon’s counsel, as seems the case, then one has to wonder what his involvement was with regard to the forced resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn on Monday night. Was the retired general a victim of his own mistakes or was he perceived as having crossed Bannon, and summarily thrown under the bus? The answer to that one may never be known but then again Congressional subpoenas are powerful instruments and there appears to be no shortage of those coming down the avenue soon.

An adept puppet master can be a thing of beauty. They can dazzle and entertain but in the shadowy world of politics they can also, knowingly or not, cause incredible damage in very short order.

Rotten Apple?

While Bannon may be a true confidant or he may be the one pulling the strings in concert with Trump or not, there is a third possibility. Is Steve Bannon actually the one with the tenuous position and not, as some media outlets have pondered, Conway, Priebus or Spicer?

On Tuesday, Breitbart News published a scathing attack on Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, asserting his head was next on the chopping block. As Liz Harrison observed here the author cited three White House sources confirmed that a search for Priebus’ replacement was underway, but failed to name any (not shocking) and many assumed Bannon was the source.

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Later on Tuesday, The Atlantic picked up on the Breitbart article commenting on speculation that Bannon may have been behind the original article from Breitbart.

The story raised immediate speculation that either Bannon or Miller had planted it.

“Can you imagine Boyle running this against Bannon’s wishes? No chance,” said one prominent Washington Republican with knowledge of the White House, who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons. “He was the editor of Breitbart about fifteen minutes ago. This is just so brazen. How’s he going to sit through meetings from Reince?”

Boyle did not respond to a request for comment.

But whether Bannon was actually involved is unclear. A source close to Bannon who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly pushed back on this idea, arguing that there is no reason to believe Bannon wants Priebus pushed out right now; Priebus’s knowledge of Washington and of Capitol Hill remains useful to enacting Bannon’s agenda. And The New York Times reported that it was actually Bannon who asked Flynn to resign over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Salon wrote that Breitbart News and Roger Stone have set their sights on both Bannon and Priebus for their perceived part in Flynn’s ousting in a piece titled, “Breitbart, Roger Stone declare war on Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus after ousting of Michael Flynn.”

Are You Confused Yet?

If all of this has you confused consider a couple of things – first, nobody has gone on the record in any of the aforementioned articles, they all cite unnamed sources; and second, confusion may well be the desired effect from the White House right now. Deception and obfuscation are hallmarks of damage control, and make no mistake the Trump administration is in full-on damage control mode.

There is however one indisputable fact worthy of recognition, as reported by Politico, about Wednesday afternoon’s press conference with President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Another change: Breitbart, the site that until recently was run by now senior White House advisor Stephen Bannon, got a front row seat in the press section, seated next to outlets like the Associated Press and Reuters.

If Bannon, arguably the second-most powerful man in the country, was truly angered or outraged at Breitbart News don’t you think he would have seen to it that they were nowhere near the front row in the company of longstanding major news outlets like AP and Reuters?

Feature image from AP Images


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Tom Dougherty
About Tom Dougherty 23 Articles
Political data expert who detests apathy and respects accountability. President & CEO of Practical Politicking. Headed back to sea soon aboard DANGER ZONE, my Melges 24 racing sailboat.

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