We don't yet know what Stephen K. Bannon's fate in the Trump White House is. But judging by President Trump's own words, it doesn't sound particularly good.
In a brief exchange with the New York Post's Michael Goodwin on Tuesday, Trump seemed to deliberately place Bannon at arm's length, suggesting that his role as an adviser has been oversold and even appearing to threaten Bannon's job.
Goodwin says he asked Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon, who is reportedly feuding with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And Trump didn't exactly disabuse Goodwin of the idea that Bannon is embattled. In fact, he did quite the opposite.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I’m my own strategist, and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
Ouch. Bannon joined the campaign in August for the lion's share of the general election, taking on the role of campaign CEO. He and Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager, were the titular heads of the campaign. Trump then kept Bannon on as his chief political adviser in the White House, serving alongside chief of staff Reince Priebus.
In his comments to Goodwin, Trump also nodded to the tensions that exist in the White House and appeared to place the onus on Bannon to make things right — or else.
“Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will,” Trump said.
Trump is certainly an unorthodox and unpredictable politician, but these comments from basically any other politician would signify the beginning of the end for Bannon. Perhaps it's frustration speaking and we shouldn't read too much into them.
But the Trump White House also has a demonstrated history of distancing itself from and downplaying the roles of aides who turn out to be liabilities. And that sure seems to be the tree Trump was barking up here.
Shortly before national security adviser Michael Flynn was asked to resign over having misled the White House about his contact with the Russian ambassador, top Trump adviser Stephen Miller also declined to give him a vote of confidence.
“That’s the question that I think you should ask the president, the question you should ask Reince, the chief of staff,” Miller said Feb. 12 on “Meet the Press.” Flynn resigned the next day.
Since then, the White House has downplayed Flynn as a “volunteer of the campaign” and has suggested the contributions of former campaign head Paul Manafort and informal adviser Roger Stone were also minimal.
Bannon has been a lightning rod from his first days at Trump's side, owing to his nationalist policies and his previous leadership of the news outlet Breitbart. Bannon once described Breitbart as a platform for the alt-right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.
And at the very least, the unsolicited marginalization of Bannon's contribution to Trump's campaign really has to sting Bannon personally.