x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Bannon out at Breitbart as his grand populist project crumbles

The former White House strategist is departing Breitbart News in the latest, humbling step to political outcast

Steve Bannon's fall from strategist for president Donald Trump to political outcast has been swift. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Steve Bannon's fall from strategist for president Donald Trump to political outcast has been swift. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist, is departing Breitbart News in the latest, humbling step from populist visionary to political outcast.

Officially the news organisation said on Tuesday that he was stepping down as executive chairman, but it comes after he lost the support of a key conservative donor and Breitbart backer amid an explosive row with Donald Trump and his administration.

It marks the end of an extraordinary fall from grace for a figure credited with harnessing the discontent across America to win the White House, but whose grenade-throwing tactics left him with few allies.

Mr Bannon was quoted by the website as saying: “I’m proud of what the Breitbart team has accomplished in so short a period of time in building out a world-class news platform.”

He initially left Breitbart in 2016 to lead Mr Trump’s unconventional election campaign. Although he was almost unknown beyond the website and its readers, he quickly built a reputation as the brain who supplied the political philosophy for the billionaire’s unlikely tilt at the White House and brought the discipline to win critical states in the mid-West.

His reward was a key job inside the White House where, as chief strategist, he was seen as stoking the nationalist flame of Mr Trump’s presidency.

However, his growing reputation ultimately proved his undoing and he was fired by a president reportedly angered by the idea he was Mr Bannon’s puppet.

The publication last week of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s explosive book on turmoil inside the White House, added to the rift. Mr Bannon is quoted questioning President Trump’s mental fitness and disparaging his elder son, Donald Trump Jr, accusing him of treason for meeting with Russian officials.

Trump aides immediately dismissed him as disloyal while the president took to Twitter to rail against “Sloppy Steve”.

“When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” said Mr Trump in a statement. “Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party."

It also emerged that Mr Trump telephoned conservative donors and party leaders ordering them to choose between the president or his former adviser.

Mr Bannon had returned to Breitbart after being dismissed by the White House, using the site as a platform from which to promote a slate of hard-right candidates to challenge mainstream Republicans in November’s midterm elections.

He angered many Republicans with his unstinting support of Roy Moore in Alabama, even after the candidate was accused on preying on girls as young as 14. His reputation for reading the populist heart of America took a blow when a Democrat won the seat for the first time in a generation.

Much of his power derived from his relationship with Rebekah Mercer, a wealthy donor, and her father, Robert, a hedge-fund billionaire. Between them, they own a minority share in Breitbart.

The final straw may have come last week when the notoriously publicity shy Ms Mercer issued a rare public statement. She had made her choice just as Mr Trump had asked.

“I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” she said. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.”

Reports immediately surfaced that Breitbart executives had begun discussions about life after the man responsible for turning it into a voice of the alt-right.

The end came on Tuesday afternoon, when the site said Mr Bannon was leaving but would help oversee an orderly transition.

Larry Solov, Breitbart chief executive, said: “Steve is a valued part of our legacy, and we will always be grateful for his contributions, and what he has helped us to accomplish.”