Stephen Bannon, Senior Advisor to US President Donald Trump..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – A growing number of conservative heavyweights surrounding President Donald Trump are pressing him to fire Steve Bannon – his chief strategist in the White House, the architect of his populist presidential campaign and his most direct envoy to the “alt-right” voter base credited for his unlikely rise to power.
Bannon, who previously ran what he called the “platform for the alt-right” at Breitbart.com, has found himself surrounded by enemies in the West Wing, according to US media reports. A tipping point was apparently reached among Trump’s staff over Bannon’s penchant for leaking to the press; his refusal to operate within the White House command structure; and his effect on the president’s ability to broaden his appeal beyond the far-right.
The New York Times, CNN and Axios claim that the president’s top advisers – including his new chief of staff, John Kelly; his national security adviser, Gen. H. R. McMaster; and his daughter and son-inlaw, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner – are pushing for Bannon to be ousted. They are joined by the most powerful man in conservative media, Rupert Murdoch.
Kelly, Kushner and Murdoch recently urged Trump to fire Bannon over dinner at the White House, The New York Times
reported on Monday.
The newspaper’s sources cite “little pushback” from the president.
further said on Tuesday that Kelly spoke with Bannon about his status, and that a departure is “not imminent.”
Pressed to clarify Bannon's fate in a press conference at Trump Tower on Monday, Trump responded: "We'll see what happens."
"I like Mr Bannon, he's a friend of mine. But he came on very late," Trump said. "He is not a racist, I can tell you that."
Bannon is Trump’s most visible connection to the alt-right movement and is considered a loose alliance of white nationalists, white supremacists, anti-immigrant groups and neo-fascists. Violence at a rally to “Unite the Right” around this alliance in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend challenged Trump to denounce the very groups marching in his name – a task that proved difficult for the president, who took two days to identify the hate groups.
But that base of support, to which Bannon is tied, is barely keeping the president above water. Recent polls from Gallup and Washington Post/ABC News put Trump’s approval rating at 34%-36% – lower than any of his predecessors ever reached throughout their entire presidencies.
Disapproval of the president is strong, at roughly 61%, as his support among Republicans falls below 80%.
Bannon joined the administration in its early days with extraordinary power and was assigned a permanent seat on the National Security Council despite having no experience in a related field. He was swiftly removed from that role, and is now in a pitched fight with McMaster over direction of the president’s foreign policies.
The strategist has orchestrated a campaign against McMaster through Breitbart and other conservative websites and columnists, alleging he is “hostile” toward Israel and privately characterizes the state as an aggressive, occupying power. Trump defended McMaster as “pro-Israel” in a recent statement.
“Can you and Steve Bannon still work together in this White House or not?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked McMaster on Sunday.
He replied: “I get to work together with a broad range of talented people, and it is a privilege every day to enable the national security team.”
Todd pressed further: “You didn’t answer. Can you and Steve Bannon work in that same White House?” “I am ready to work with anybody who will help advance the president’s agenda and advance the security, prosperity of the American people,” McMaster repeated.
Meanwhile, Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire who prioritizes Israel policy in his political donations, is “perfectly comfortable” with McMaster’s role in the White House and has nothing to do with the campaign against him, his spokesman told Axios – this despite the fact that Adelson funds the Zionist Organization of America, one of the right-wing organizations questioning McMaster’s stance on Israel.
Axios further reported that Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has vouched for McMaster, but was unable to convince Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America’s president, of his friendship with the Jewish state.
Trump is currently in Manhattan, during a White House renovation, surrounded by his closest aides. Bannon remained behind in Washington.