But his career as a political consultant has been short and checkered. As the president has observed, Mr. Bannon did not join Mr. Trump’s campaign until August 2016, by which time Mr. Trump had secured the Republican nomination. Mr. Trump’s general election victory was remarkable. It was also something of a black-swan event. There is a tendency, especially among Mr. Trump’s supporters, to overlook the fact that, had some 79,000 votes in three states gone the other way, the winner of the popular vote would now be in the White House.
Since his inauguration, President Trump’s numbers have steadily declined. He is at 39 percent approval and at 55 percent disapproval in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. The low standing depletes Mr. Trump’s political capital and his leverage over Congress. It endangers Republican control of one or both legislative chambers. Perhaps it is time to take advice from someone else.
Of course, Mr. Trump does not seem inclined to listen to anyone at all. That is even more reason not to exaggerate Mr. Bannon’s influence. Mr. Bannon may have encouraged Mr. Trump to follow his instincts, but that is precisely the point: Mr. Trump’s natural inclinations are in perfect harmony with the voters he refers to in casual conversation as “my people.” Mr. Bannon may have encouraged Mr. Trump not to back down from his positions on the violence in Charlottesville and on the place of statuary memorializing the Confederacy. But the final decision, like all decisions in this White House, was Mr. Trump’s alone.
Mr. Bannon has flitted through an eccentric career in the Navy, on Wall Street, in Hollywood and in the populist faction of the conservative movement. He has a reputation as a well-read autodidact whose syncretic worldview is the result of years of independent and wide-ranging study.
But he is a terrible colleague. His unprompted interview last week with the editor of a liberal magazine not only demonstrated a naïve willingness to forge alliances with the economic left on trade and infrastructure. It also confirmed everything that has been said about Mr. Bannon: He disparages his co-workers behind their backs; he postures as the force behind personnel decisions; and he pretends to know more about national security than James Mattis, John Kelly, H. R. McMaster and Joseph Dunford (not to mention Donald Trump).
The conflicting reports about the timing and method of Mr. Bannon’s fall, whether he was fired or resigned, whether he knew he was on his way out or was suddenly expelled, are additional signs of his habit of manipulating the press for his personal benefit.
“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview with The Weekly Standard on Friday. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over.”
“President Trump has told close associates that he believes Steve Bannon is behind damaging leaks about White House colleagues,” Axios.com reported last week. The American Prospect interview made Mr. Trump’s suspicions impossible to doubt.
The costs of Mr. Bannon’s presence in the West Wing outweighed the benefits. You can’t have an underling raise the white flag in the middle of a nuclear standoff with North Korea. You can’t tell Mr. Kelly to impose order on the staff while allowing Mr. Bannon to run around D.C. impugning the men and women who stand in his way. You can’t begin to rebuild your presidency with Mr. Bannon on payroll.
Between May 9, when he fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and Aug. 15, when he said there were good people “on both sides” of the clash between racists and antifa, or anti-fascists, Mr. Trump has done more damage to himself and to his office than any president in memory. Whatever hopes he has of salvaging his presidency begin in suppressing the infighting, factionalism, subversion, dysfunction and flirtations with extremism within his inner circle.
The myth of Steve Bannon’s power may live on. But the reality is that Mr. Trump no longer needs him and is unlikely to be harmed by Mr. Bannon’s sniping.
The connection between Mr. Trump and the forces Mr. Bannon represents is visceral and durable. To save his presidency, though, Mr. Trump must join with another, far larger constituency: the American people.