Trump pressured to dump nationalist wing
Pressure is mounting on President Trump to dump his controversial chief strategist Stephen Bannon after this weekend’s racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., provoked widespread anger at the nationalist wing of Trump’s White House.
Democrats, and some Republican critics of Trump, are demanding he cut ties with Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who once described his site as the “platform for the alt-right.”
Adviser Sebastian Gorka, who once wrote for the publication, has also come under criticism.
“Breitbart has become a pejorative. … It has been a vehicle for the alt-right,” Tyler said. “You can’t allow the Oval Office to be a vehicle for the alt-right.”
That sentiment was echoed countless times over the weekend by a broad spectrum of Washington insiders, including establishment Republicans and Democratic lawmakers.
“If the president is sincere about rejecting white supremacists, he should remove all doubt by firing Steve Bannon and the other alt-right white supremacist sympathizers in the White House,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Monday.
She said the president’s widely panned initial reaction to the Charlottesville violence, where clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters Saturday left one dead and dozens injured, was a “direct reflection of the fact” that Bannon “is an alt-right white supremacist sympathizer and a shameless enforcer of those un-American beliefs.”
When the president arrived back in Washington on Monday from his New Jersey golf club, he ignored a shouted question from a reporter about whether he’d fire Bannon and Gorka.
The White House did not respond when asked if the president still has confidence in Bannon and Gorka.
Bannon’s allies and Breitbart’s defenders are frustrated by what they view as the reactionary response to tar them as racists every time a racially charged event takes over the news cycle.
“Breitbart has never been racist; it’s been a flashpoint for people to write in frustration about the government failing them,” said one former Trump transition adviser. “Under Bannon it became a nationalist economic platform, not a racial one, but now when the left sees anything about national economic populism all they see is race. That’s their bias, not ours. It’s been completely bastardized by the media and the left. That’s what talented political operators do, they try to take away your best weapon.”
Bannon has proven resilient amid the turmoil and turnover that has racked the West Wing in recent weeks, in part because Trump’s base of grassroots supporters view him as the beating heart of the president’s “America first” agenda.
Trump’s supporters warn that firing Bannon could have unintended political consequences for the president.
“I absolutely believe it would be a huge mistake by the president to fire Bannon,” said Debbie Dooley, a longtime Tea Party activist. “He’d be turning his back on the people that got him elected and there would be a rebellion among his base.”
Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, one of the primary architects of Trump’s immigration policies, has also attracted scrutiny from some Washington Republicans.
John Weaver, an adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), said those around Trump are the symptom, rather than the problem.
“Bannon, Miller, Gorka must go. Probably more. But I don’t want to hear this primarily staff issue. Give Kelly time my ass. Trump owns this,” Weavertweeted.
Bannon and Gorka did not respond to emails requesting comment. Miller referred questions to the White House press office, which did not reply to multiple emails.
Bannon was on shaky ground even before Washington turned its ire on him over Charlottesville.
Some in Trump World have privately been counting down the days he has left since his ally, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, was fired and replaced by John Kelly, a retired Marine general and former Homeland Security secretary who is taking a fresh look at White House staff and operations.
Bannon has been battling Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who has successfully purged some of his allies from the National Security Council (NSC).
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is close with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, intoned darkly Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Bannon’s time at the White House could be short because the president had tabbed him as a leaker.
“I think the president knows what he’s going to do with Steve Bannon,” said Scaramucci, who railed profanely against Bannon in a conversation with The New Yorker earlier this month that in part cost him his job.
Bannon’s allies say the president doesn’t take Scaramucci seriously.
And despite his efforts, McMaster has not been able to touch Gorka, a close Bannon ally who is not on the NSC but nonetheless speaks for the White House on foreign policy matters in the media.
“Scheduling people for the media and spokespeople is not my area of responsibility,” McMaster said when asked about Gorka on Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Gorka remains in Trump’s good graces for fiercely defending him on cable news, but he is despised by many in Washington for his bombastic comments on a wide variety of issues.
In an interview with “Breitbart News Daily” three days before the violence in Charlottesville, Gorka faulted the media for focusing too much on white supremacists.
“It’s this constant, ‘oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacist. That’s the problem.’ No it isn’t,” Gorka said. “Go to Sinjar [in Iraq]. Go to the Middle East and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.”
McMaster’s overhaul of the NSC staff has provoked a furious response from right-wing media outlets, including Breitbart, which has labeled the national security adviser a menace to the president’s agenda and is committed to chasing him from the White House.
Many in Trump’s base are upset that the president has stocked the White House with “liberals” like National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive and registered Democrat, and others who didn’t support him during the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
If Bannon were cut loose, it would be another sign to the base that Trump has been blown off course, supporters say.
Dooley called McMaster a “rattlesnake” and warned the president that he’s playing with fire by allowing him to purge conservatives from the president’s team.
“I have confidence the president will not turn his back on the conservative base that helped elect him,” Dooley said. “It would cause extreme heartburn for the folks who stuck their necks out for him if he were to purge the White House of conservatives and leave the moderates in place.”
Still, the former transition official said Bannon’s future at the White House appears increasingly bleak.
“The media has effectively made him a distraction and he’s made himself a distraction,” the source said. “The president is aware that the distraction exists and he is constantly evaluating the pros and cons of each relationship. The cons are adding up.”