Jonathan Swan of Axios, a very fine reporter, has just written that Chief of Staff John Kelly’s review of White House staff is coming to an end — and that Steve Bannon appears to be on the chopping block.
“A decision is imminent,” Swan writes. More fascinating is that the decision seems to rest in Kelly’s hands.
Apparently, President Trump now suspects Bannon has been responsible for a series of damaging leaks about his colleagues in the West Wing. His recent on-the-record news dump to a left-wing reporter, in which he bad-mouthed other members of the White House staff, cannot have helped either.
Bannon may still survive, however. Swan notes that he appears unfazed and that Trump will have to consider whether Bannon can damage him from outside the administration, or cost him the support of billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, valuable Trump allies. “Get ready for Bannon the barbarian,” warned a source close to Bannon.
But this may not be enough to save his job: “Many West Wing officials are now asking ‘when,’ not ‘if,’ Bannon goes,” according to Swan.
Chief of Staff Kelly would have good reasons to fire Bannon. As National Review’s David French has written, “Bannon’s actions indicate that, if nothing else, he’s a vicious opportunist.” This opportunism has led him not only to indulge some of the elements of the hateful alt-right, but also to wage a vicious media campaign against national-security adviser H. R. McMaster, with Bannon’s allies falsely accusing him of being anti-Israel and an alcoholic.
David puts it with characteristic clarity: “Vindictive men who promote the work of racists and normalize their ideas obviously shouldn’t be within 100 miles of political power, never mind two steps from the Oval Office.” We would do well to remember that as Kelly makes his ultimate decision.
It has become even more difficult to defend Bannon now that, as Charles Krauthammer explained last night, Bannon is openly contradicting the president and attacking other White House staff to left-wing reporters.
Kelly will have to keep all of this in mind as he makes his final decision. Will Bannon be more damaging to the president from the outside than from the inside? We may soon find out.