Donald Trump puts top aide Steve Bannon at arm's length

Trump distanced himself from Bannon (above) and downplayed his role in an interview with the New York Post.
Trump distanced himself from Bannon (above) and downplayed his role in an interview with the New York Post.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump offered a half-hearted endorsement of his chief strategist Steve Bannon on Wednesday (April 12), fuelling speculation that the controversial aide has fallen out of favour.

Trump distanced himself from Bannon and downplayed his role in the White House during an interview with the New York Post, which came amid intense White House infighting.

The 63-year-old Bannon is seen as the driving force behind Trump's nationalist-populist agenda - making him a cause celebre of the far-right and a bete noire for centrists.

"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said when asked if he had confidence in the former Breitbart chief executive.

"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," he said.

Bannon was brought in to lead Trump's turbulent presidential campaign three months before Election Day in November.

Today, he occupies a West Wing office just steps from the Oval Office.

Such was the early value of his stock that he privately boasted about handpicking Trump's Cabinet.

Satirists painted him as the Grim Reaper. In largely Democratic areas of Washington, posters call for the impeachment of "President Bannon."

'STRAIGHTEN IT OUT, OR I WILL'

Bannon's high profile was said to irk the attention-hungry President and Trump's comments could signal his patience is further fraying with the top aide.

Bannon recently lost his coveted place on the National Security Council, which decides issues of war and peace.

And last week, Trump ordered his son-in-law Jared Kushner, another top White House aide, and Bannon to meet and patch up their differences.

"Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will," Trump told the Post.

Kushner - who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka - has amassed a widening portfolio of responsibilities in the White House.

He has been tasked by Trump with solving Middle East peace, reforming the federal government and is seen by foreign capitals as the quickest, most reliable, way to get a message to the new president.

For many Bannon supporters, the Kushnerites are an invasive species of "Democrats" in a Republican White House, thwarting Trump's promise to aggressively fight for white working-class voters.

Kushner has also been helped by the ascendancy of administration moderates such as ex-Goldman Sachs executives Gary Cohn and Dina Powell.

Their emergence has coincided with slow pedaling on some of Trump's more protectionist trade promises such as withdrawing from Nafta, imposing far-reaching tariffs and branding China a currency manipulator.

Earlier on Wednesday, fellow aide Kellyanne Conway appeared to also take a shot at Bannon, who described the media as the "opposition party."

"Some of the words being used to describe (the press)... I do not use, and have not used," she said at an event at the Newseum in Washington.

"I think it's very important in a healthy democracy to have a free and fair press."

In another apparent dig, Conway said: "One thing I have noticed, that if you're somebody who says 'I never talk to the media', you're really free to talk to the media as much as you want, because nobody would suspect you're talking to the media, which is fascinating."