WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Following his brutal disavowal by President Donald Trump, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s dream of spearheading a new U.S. political movement appears in tatters while the Republican establishment he challenged is feeling more secure.
Trump turned on Bannon over his comments to the author of a book highly critical of the president and his family. The White House followed up on Thursday by suggesting that Bannon be ousted from his influential perch as chief executive of the hard-right news site Breitbart News.
Bannon appeared to have few close friends left among the more conservative factions of the Republican Party, which swiftly proclaimed their loyalty to Trump following the breakup.
“I don’t know anyone in the conservative movement that’s supporting Steve over Donald Trump right now in this,” Christopher Ruddy, a close Trump ally and chief executive of the conservative Newsmax site, told Reuters.
Mike Cernovich, a leading social-media voice of the so-called alt-right movement that Bannon helped energize on Trump’s behalf, had no doubt about which of the two men had more popular support. “The base will stay with Trump.”
Reader comments on Breitbart’s site seemed overwhelmingly supportive of the president compared with Bannon. The Wall Street Journal reported late on Thursday that the site’s board was considering letting him go.
Bannon’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Last year, media outlets as diverse as Time magazine and the comedy show “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Bannon, Trump’s election campaign strategist, as the power behind the president, an unshaven, shabbily dressed Svengali bending the Republican Party to his economic nationalist agenda.
But Bannon’s star had been tumbling long before this week’s flap over criticism Bannon leveled at Trump’s family in Michael Wolff’s new book on the White House.
In August, Bannon was fired amid a power struggle in the West Wing, forcing his return to Breitbart.
His reputation as a political mastermind then took a hit after Republicans lost a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama they had long held when the Bannon-backed Roy Moore, who was accused of improper conduct with teenage girls, fell to Democrat Doug Jones.
After leaving the White House, Bannon proclaimed his loyalty to Trump and vowed to wage an insurrection against the Republican establishment, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he accused of stalling Trump’s policy agenda.
But last month, on the heels of Moore’s loss in Alabama, McConnell helped steer an overhaul of the U.S. tax code through Congress, earning praise from Trump and depriving Bannon of his argument that the Republican-controlled Congress had not produced results.
Trump turned on Bannon on Wednesday, saying he had “lost his mind” when he lost his job as chief strategist. He said Bannon did not represent Trump’s political base and had exaggerated his influence even when he was at the White House.
Following Trump’s attack, some of the candidates who had aligned themselves with Bannon’s movement began stepping away, including Arizona U.S. Senate hopeful Kelli Ward and New York congressional candidate Michael Grimm, who called the attacks against Trump’s family “baseless.”
Bannon’s influence, Ruddy said, had always stemmed from the belief that he was close to Trump.
“He’s greatly diminished,” he said. “What Steve forgets is the base is all about Donald Trump. It’s not about Steve Bannon.”
Josh Holmes, a former top aide to McConnell, said Bannon had been on a “self-interested mission” to play kingmaker inside the Republican Party.
“I think that’s over. ... A leader without followers is just a guy taking a walk,” Holmes said.
A friend of Bannon, former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, said he doubted Bannon’s relationship with Trump could be fully repaired. But he added that Bannon would retain some sway over Trump’s supporters, particularly on issues such as immigration.
“This is not the end of the world, particularly with this president,” Nunberg said.
Trump is known for casting associates out of the fold, but also for bringing them back, particularly if there are common political interests or common enemies.
The president did appear to be in a slightly forgiving mood on Thursday, noting that Bannon had praised him the night before on a radio show.
“I don’t know, he called me a great man last night,” Trump told reporters, “so you know, he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.”
However, in a tweet late on Thursday evening, he ridiculed Bannon with a new nickname, something Trump has commonly done to tag political foes and critics.
Slamming author Wolff for his “phony” book, Trump tweeted, “Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!”
Reporting by James Oliphant and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by John Whitesides; Written by James Oliphant; Editing by Kieran Murray and Peter Cooney