President Trump’s controversial populist adviser is leaving the administration in what the White House described as a mutual agreement, a departure that leaves Trump without key representatives of either the GOP establishment or the populist right on his team. Bannon has been seen as the influence behind some of Trump’s appeals to racial prejudice, but the president expressed troubling views before his connection with Bannon, and he’s unlikely to lose them now. Bannon is expected to go back to Breitbart News, the far-right outlet where he was executive chair—and in that role, he could pose a serious risk to the White House.
“Steve is now unchained,” said a source close to Bannon. “Fully unchained.”
“He’s going nuclear,” said another friend. “You have no idea. This is gonna be really fucking bad.”
Bannon had in recent days mused about leaving, according to people who have spoken with him; he has expressed to friends that he feels the administration is failing and is a sinking ship. And last week, he told people in a meeting that he would have 10 times more influence outside the White House than inside it.
Breitbart News announced on Friday evening—in a post lauding him as a “populist hero”—that Bannon had returned to the site as the executive chairman and had led the evening editorial meeting. He met with Alex Marlow, Breitbart’s editor in chief, on Sunday and Monday, according to a source close to Bannon. Under his prior leadership, Breitbart morphed into an aggressive pro-Trump outlet, voicing many themes of his campaign even before he declared his candidacy. Since Trump took office, it has often seemed to function as a PR shop for Bannon’s faction of the White House. It has frequently run stories attacking his rivals, including, most recently, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council chair Gary Cohn.Bannon’s animus towards the “globalists” in the administration is well known. Now, from the outside, he no longer has any reason to play nice.Another source close to Bannon said that he remains loyal to Trump himself. But “when Steve feels the Trump administration is wrong, will he point to the people he has the inside knowledge about who are pushing for certain policies? I assume he will.”
Apart from its impact on the broader political landscape, Bannon’s exit will be extremely consequential to the inner workings of the White House, which has been marked by infighting between his nationalist faction and the more moderate influences who have been brought in. In his departure, the nationalists lose their leader while some of Trump’s key campaign promises—the border wall, for example—still go unfulfilled. Bannon famously kept a whiteboard full of those promises in his office, checking them off as they were fulfilled.