Bannon in limbo as Trump urged to sack him

US President Donald Trump said his chief strategist Steve Bannon was 'not a racist' and then said 'we'll see what happens with Mr Bannon'.
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (centre), the subject of claims that he is a racist or a sympathiser of white supremacists, is now in a kind of internal exile and has not met President Trump for more than a week.
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon (centre), the subject of claims that he is a racist or a sympathiser of white supremacists, is now in a kind of internal exile and has not met President Trump for more than a week.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged US President Donald Trump to fire the man; former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci thrashed him on television as a white nationalist; and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster refused to even say he could work with him.

For months, Mr Trump has considered ousting Mr Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a "platform for the alt-right".

Mr Trump has now relegated Mr Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides.

Despite being marginalised, Mr Bannon consulted the President repeatedly over the weekend as Mr Trump struggled to respond to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In general, Mr Bannon has cautioned the President not to criticise far-right activists too severely for fear of antagonising a small but energetic part of his base.

But what once endeared him to the leader has become a liability.

"I don't think the White House has a chance of functioning properly as long as there is a resident lunatic fringe," said Mr Mark Salter, a long-time adviser to Republican Senator John McCain.

Mr Bannon, 63, also has admirers, including Republican Representative Mark Meadows, who said that without Mr Bannon, "there is a concern among conservatives that Washington will influence the President in a way that moves him away from those voters that put him in the White House".

Mr Bannon, who adamantly rejects claims that he is a racist or a sympathiser of white supremacists, is in trouble with Mr John Kelly, a retired Marine general and the new White House chief of staff.

Mr Kelly has told Mr Trump's top staff that he will not tolerate Mr Bannon's shadowland machinations, according to a dozen sources with knowledge of the situation.

Mr Bannon's purported crimes: Leaking nasty stories about Lieutenant-General McMaster and other colleagues he deems insufficiently populist; feuding bitterly with Mr Trump's son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner; and creating his own cadre within the West Wing that operates outside the chain of command.

From the start, Mr Bannon has told people that he never expected to last in his position longer than eight months to a year, and hoped to ram through as much of his agenda as he could. More recently, he has told friends that he constantly asks himself whether he could better pursue his to-do list - including cracking down on legal and illegal immigration - on the outside.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Bannon in limbo as Trump urged to sack him'. Print Edition | Subscribe