Pressured on all sides to fire his chief strategist, Trump is reportedly afraid Steve Bannon would turn on him if let go.
Despite his blustering persona of a tough-talking, New York City street fighter, it turns out Donald Trump can’t even stand up to members of his own inner circle, especially his embattled chief strategist Steve Bannon.
"The president obviously is very nervous and afraid of firing him," a White House source tells Reuters.
Trump has been willing to banish lots of key players this year, including his former chief of staff Reince Priebus. But not Bannon. What’s Trump afraid of?
He’s afraid that Bannon will focus his wrath on the White House, that he’ll turn the so-called "alt-right" white nationalist media against Trump, too. He's likely afraid that Bannon will turn the Breitbart platform, which Bannon used to run and has a waiver to continue communicating with from the White House, into an anti-Trump blowtorch.
"I think there's no question that if Trump were to divorce himself from Steve Bannon and Steve were to leave the White House, then I really think it's open season against him, as far as Breitbart's concerned," Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson for Breitbart, told CNN.
For now, Bannon keeps his White House perch despite outside pleas from Rupert Murdoch and Anthony Scaramucci that Trump fire his strategist. Yesterday, Trump offered up tepid support, calling Bannon a “friend” and “not a racist.”
And Bannon keeps his jobs despite the full-fledge, not-very-subtle whispering campaign in the press, as White House sources try to set the stage for Bannon’s ouster. “The knives are out for Steve Bannon,” CNN recently reported.
But so far, Trump’s not taking decisive action.
On paper, Bannon certainly appears to be an aide worth replacing. He’s the chief strategist for a president with no coherent strategy. Instead, Trump careens from one crisis to another, unable to pass a single substantive piece of legislation.
The White House, under Bannon’s guidance, completely botched its effort to shepherd through Congress the GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, as Trump alternately watched the process from a distance, completely detached, and then rushed in to try to threaten and intimidate Republican senators.
Meanwhile, Bannon has reportedly been helping to orchestrate a smear campaign against National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. In a television interview on Sunday, McMaster repeatedly declined to say whether he could work with Bannon.
That's the kind of public squabbling makes Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, appear weak. “Mr. Kelly has told Mr. Trump’s top staff that he will not tolerate Mr. Bannon’s shadowland machinations,” The New York Times reported.
And yet, Bannon and Trump remain attached ideologically. Despite the torrent of bipartisan criticism following Trump’s embrace of white nationalists Tuesday, among the few people inside the White House who liked Trump’s statements were Trump himself, and Bannon, who was reportedly “proud” of Trump’s unhinged performance.