Donald Trump officially despises his former adviser Steve Bannon, and the president even has a humiliating nickname to express his contempt.
The fallout occurred over the revelation of Bannon insulting Trump’s adult children — including the former White House chief strategist saying Donald Trump Jr. engaged in “treasonous” behavior — in a new book by Michael Wolff.
The president took a scorched earth approach in dealing with this supposedly disloyal friend — disavowing Bannon in an official statement, having his surrogates excoriate his new foe on social media, encouraging the powerful Mercer family to abandon the Breitbart executive and attacking his former confidant in multiple tweets. (RELATED: The Mercers Have Turned Their Backs On Steve Bannon)
Bannon remained mum for most of the whole ordeal, but he finally issued an apology Sunday morning that was originally intended to be released when this whole controversy started. That’s probably too little, too late to keep Bannon’s political stature intact. (RELATED: Bannon ‘Regrets’ Critical Comments In ‘Inaccurate’ Book On Trump)
His primary benefactors, Trump and the Mercers, have abandoned him. He may soon lose his job atop Breitbart over the ordeal. Folks who had just one week prior praised Bannon to high heaven now view him as a rotten traitor.
Bannon’s present fortunes are a major reversal of where he was in early 2017, back when he was seen as the brains of the White House and even as the real power in the West Wing.
Now he’s just Sloppy Steve.
One of the most important things to consider with this story is how this abrupt fall from grace for Bannon all but destroyed his chances of building a Trumpist movement beyond Trump. Candidates that previously touted Bannon’s support, like Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward, are now not so proud of that backing.
It’s doubtful other candidates will go seeking the Breitbart chief’s support following Trump’s thrashing, to the joy of the Republican establishment that Bannon vowed to tear down.
With Bannon out of the way, there is some concern among Trump’s early supporters that the establishment may come to entirely control the president’s agenda.
That’s not entirely true, considering Trump’s own temperament that resists control by anyone and the fact that Stephen Miller — a genuine populist-nationalist — is rising in influence in the White House and was praised by Trump for his Sunday morning performance on CNN.
Bannon’s estrangement will in all likelihood have no effect on the policies Trump chooses to pursue as president. The real effect of the division is the curtailment of Bannon building a Trumpist political movement.
Trump himself isn’t very good at articulating a coherent political ideology, to put it mildly. Bannon had taken it upon himself to make sense of Trump’s conflicting statements and instincts and mold it into a coherent ideology.
Namely that of populist-nationalism.
Trumpism, as Bannon made it out to be, wants less immigration, less foreign interventionism and offers heterodox views on economic issues in contrast to conservative orthodoxy (such as support for trade protectionism and raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires).
Bannon looked to develop a cadre of political candidates that could promote Trumpism as a political ideology. Admittedly, he didn’t have very good results with this considering Roy Moore became the face of this effort.
Moore’s core issue was fighting against the “gay agenda” and seemed remarkably unconcerned with everything else. As an example, he had no idea what DACA — Barack Obama’s executive order that gave illegal aliens who came here as minors temporary legalization and was scrapped by Trump — was while running for Senate. (RELATED: Alabamians Rejected A Creepy Kook, Not Trump)
Moore, of course, lost an easy GOP seat to an unremarkable Democrat back in December.
In spite of these troubles, there was still the potential for Bannon to build up this Trumpist movement before the president called him Sloppy Steve. A Trumpist movement cannot survive when it is condemned by the man who gives it its name.
Outside of giving support to political candidates, Bannon was challenging movement conservatism with his political endeavors. The populist-nationalism he espoused offered an alternative to conservative orthodoxy and the “Business First” thinking of the GOP establishment.
Trump’s triumph over movement conservatism in the presidential campaign has left a void on the political Right for new political ideologies to gain in prominence. So far, nothing has yet filled that void and movement conservatism is surviving remarkably well in the Trump era.
It’s no surprise that some of the people most thrilled by Trump’s derogatory tweets of Bannon were movement conservatives like National Review’s Rich Lowry and Ben Shapiro. Bannon sought to replace them as the political guru on the Right, and his downfall greatly reduces that possibility.
However, the fall of Breitbart’s chief doesn’t entail the end of populist-nationalism and a return to George W. Bush-era conservatism. The age of Trump is one of change and heightened tensions in the country. Movement conservatism’s preferred answers of low taxes and more wars no longer satisfy the concerns of Republican voters, as proven by Trump’s stunning electoral victory on a Bannonite agenda.
Populist-nationalism is still viable in America and strong candidates, such as Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania, are continuing to run for office on the agenda that brought Trump to the White House.
Trumpism as a political ideology isn’t dead following Bannon’s public humiliation — it just means the former White House chief strategist is no longer its guru.