Rarely has a political figure burned so bright and flamed out so quickly. And while the entire story of Stephen Bannon’s career has not necessarily been written to its conclusion, his fall from grace was punctuated sharply on Tuesday when he was asked to step down from his position at Breitbart News. The chieftain of the renegade conservative website in the wake of its founder’s death in 2012, Bannon not only presided over an extraordinary rise in popularity at Breitbart but managed to parlay it into a job managing the Trump campaign, which, when said campaign delivered a victory, he turned into a top job at the White House.
Things originally seemed to sour for Bannon last summer when he left the White House shortly after the controversial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. While the facts behind Bannon’s departure remain shrouded in some degree of mystery, reports suggested that Chief of Staff John Kelly recommended he be fired in the wake of the brouhaha. Bannon returned to Breitbart and turned his attention to the Senate race in Alabama, where he and his site threw their full support behind insurgent candidate Roy Moore. That fiasco didn’t exactly turn out as intended, and if Bannon and Trump’s relationship was on shaky ground already, Moore’s scandals and defeat probably didn’t do anything to smooth things over.
With the release of the trashy gossip book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, however, things took a turn for the doomed. Bannon was quoted extensively throughout the book; indeed, he appears to have been one of author Michael Wolff’s primary sources. And while Bannon has plenty of praise for the president inside the book’s pages, he also made more than a few comments that rocked the foundation of TrumpWorld. He suggested that lawmakers would “crack Donald Trump Jr. like an egg” if they got him in front of TV cameras for testimony. He said that the meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was nothing short of “treasonous.” And, at some points in the Wolff narrative, Bannon appears to think of Trump as somehow beneath him – a distracted “monkey” he was able to guide along by the tail.
Once these damning quotes became the talk of the town, Bannon’s relationship with President Trump was finished. Before the week was out, Trump was publicly blaming Bannon for losing the Alabama Senate seat, downplaying his contribution to both his campaign and his presidency, and dismissing him with one of his patented Trump nicknames: “Sloppy Steve.” The chief financiers of Breitbart – the Mercer family – severed ties with Bannon, and he stepped down from the website on Tuesday. If Bannon had a significant hand in forging the modern conservative, anti-establishment movement, it was a movement that had moved on.
We doubt Bannon will ride off into the sunset quietly; he’s a fighter, and he will be back. As to whether he’ll be able to come back from this public rupture and reclaim his place atop outlaw conservative politics? We’ll have to wait and find out.