WASHINGTON — Steve Bannon, the blunt-spoken and divisive strategist who rose from Donald Trump’s conservative campaign to a top White House post, was pushed out by the president Friday, capping a turbulent seven months that now has seen the departure of much of his senior staff.
The former leader of conservative Breitbart News and a favorite in the farther-right portions of the Republican Party, Bannon has pushed Trump to follow through on some of his most contentious campaign promises including his travel ban for some foreigners and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.
Just seven months in, Trump has forced out his hardline national security adviser, his chief of staff, his press secretary (whose last day will be Aug. 31) and two communications directors — in addition to the FBI director he inherited from Barack Obama.
Bannon’s departure is especially significant since he was viewed by many as Trump’s connection to his base of most-committed voters and the protector of the disruptive, conservative agenda that propelled the celebrity businessman to the White House.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow if Steve is gone because you have a Republican West Wing that’s filled with generals and Democrats,” said former campaign strategist Sam Nunberg, shortly before the news of Bannon’s departure broke. “It would feel like the twilight zone.”
From Breitbart, there was a dramatic one-word warning.
“#WAR,” tweeted Joel B. Pollak, a senior editor at large at the news site.
Later, the news site announced Bannon had returned as its executive chairman, and led an editorial meeting Friday evening.
Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow said: “The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today.”
Indeed, Bannon’s nationalistic, outsider conservatism served as a guiding force for Trump’s rise to office. Without him, Trump’s agenda is left in the hands of more moderate advisers, including his son-in-law, his daughter and his economic adviser whom Bannon has slammed as “globalist.”
On the other hand, some at the White House have suggested his influence was often exaggerated — perhaps as a result of behind-the-scenes self-promotion.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Bannon and Chief of Staff John Kelly, only recently installed himself, had agreed that Friday would be Bannon’s last day.
“We are grateful for his service and wish him the best,” she said in the only statement from the White House.
A combative and unorthodox Republican, Bannon was a key adviser in Trump’s general election campaign, but he has been a contentious presence in a White House divided by warring staff loyalties. He repeatedly clashed with other top advisers, most notably Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and has drawn the ire of the president himself.
One person close to Bannon said he had offered his resignation to Trump on Aug. 7. It was to go into effect a week later, the one-year anniversary of when he officially joined Trump’s presidential campaign. But the departure was delayed after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, said the person, who spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
In fact, Bannon has been on shaky ground for weeks, and his job appeared in jeopardy when Kelly announced that he’d be embarking on a personnel review of West Wing staff.
Though Bannon had adopted a lower profile in recent weeks, he again became a flashpoint following criticism from the right of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, which some blamed on him.
Then this week, The American Prospect posted an interview in which he contradicted Trump by saying there was no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Just last week, Trump pledged to answer North Korean aggression with “fire and fury.”
Bannon also told the liberal publication that the U.S. is losing the economic race against China and talked about purging his rivals from the Defense and State departments, as though he were in charge.
In recent remarks, the president has downplayed Bannon’s role in his campaign and refused to express confidence in him.
“He’s a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard,” Trump said earlier this week. “But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
In fact, Trump had recently signaled to confidants that he was going to dismiss Bannon but had not settled on a timeframe, according to another person who had discussed the matter with the president but was not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions and insisted on anonymity.
Bannon is the latest in a line of departures that includes former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer (though he is still temporarily working at the White House), former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, whose tenure lasted little more than a week.
Lemire contributed from New York.