Steve Bannon Was Doomed

Steve Bannon Was Doomed, by Frank Bruni.

If you’re any student of politics, you saw Steve Bannon on the cover of Time magazine in early February — “The Great Manipulator,” it called him — and knew to start the countdown then.

Dead strategist walking.

He’d crossed the line that a politician’s advisers mustn’t, to a place and prominence where only the most foolish of them tread. Or at best he’d failed to prevent the media from tugging him there.

He was fine so long as he was a whisperer. On the campaign trail and on the Potomac, you can whisper all you want.

He was damned the moment he was cast as a puppeteer. That means there’s a puppet in the equation, and no politician is going to accept that designation, least of all one who stamps his name in gold on anything that stands still long enough to be stamped. Or whose debate performance included the repartee: “No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet.” …

Politics is a tricky business, Washington is a treacherous place and Trumplandia is downright brutal. In all three realms, you have to strike the right balance of self-promotion and self-effacement. The media’s no help: We love few archetypes better than that of the brilliant mastermind who’s the real power behind the throne. But the savviest operators find ways to resist that assignment, deflecting as much credit as they claim. …

Bannon didn’t hide his influence well enough. Not the greatest strategist?

Bannon is an amateur masker. While he didn’t give Time any quotes for its “manipulator” story and the photograph of him on the cover had been shot for a different reason three months earlier, he has spent plenty of time talking off the record with political reporters, too little of it actively tamping down his legend.

He wasn’t vigilant enough about patrolling the way his allies inside and outside the administration deified him in their own murmurings to the media, which included the nugget that colleagues awed by his knowledge called him “the encyclopedia.” He didn’t grasp that you can’t be “the encyclopedia” if your president is barely a pamphlet, and didn’t see the traps that would have been obvious to a Washington insider.

He didn’t grapple with who Trump really is. Trump’s allegiances are fickle. His attention flits. His compass is popularity, not any fixed philosophy, certainly not the divisive brand of populism and nationalism that Bannon was trying to enforce. Bannon insisted on an ideology when Trump cares more about applause, and what generates it at a campaign rally isn’t what sustains it when you’re actually governing.

Joanne comments: Maybe the lefties at Time magazine labelled Bannon as a “The Great Manipulator” in order to cause friction and split the Trump team? If so, it was a smart strategic move.