The future of Bannonism

The future of Bannonism, by The Economist.

Among the particular opponents he has in his sights, said Mr Bannon, seated in a dining-room decorated with Christian iconography and political mementos, are congressional Republicans (“Mitch McConnell, I’m going to light him up”), China (“Let’s go screw up One Belt One Road”) and “the elites in Silicon Valley and Wall Street — they’re a bunch of globalists who have forgotten their fellow Americans.” …

As an attention-seeking New Yorker and host of “The Apprentice”, a reality-television show, Mr Trump had national name recognition and some liberal views, including on gun control and immigration. Particularly for the Republican he sometimes claimed to be, he also had a large following among non-whites. According to a bestselling book on the Trump-Bannon partnership by Joshua Green, a journalist, Breitbart and its boss were instrumental in convincing Mr Trump to relaunch himself as a right-wing populist nationalist, contemptuous of the politically correct establishment.

As Mr Trump’s campaign chief (his third in two months, the campaign having been roiled by scandals) Mr Bannon urged him to redouble that effort. “The American people understood his foibles and understood his character flaws and they didn’t care,” he says. “The country was thirsting for change and [Barack] Obama didn’t give them enough. I said, we are going for a nationalist message, we are going to go barbarian, and we will win.” …

Persuading Mr Trump, against the advice of other courtiers, to jettison the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the Paris climate accord were two of his successes.

For Mr Bannon, who went from a working-class Virginian family to careers in Wall Street and Hollywood, those agreements epitomised the folly of globalisation, which he considers disastrous for American workers and avoidable. He hardened this critique after returning to America from a spell in Hong Kong; China, whose gaming of WTO rules Mr Bannon considers tantamount to an “economic war” against America, remains at the heart of it. A zealous Catholic who believes in the inevitability of civilisational conflict, he considers China’s growth to be an additional, overarching threat to America, which it must therefore dial back. “I want the world to look back in 100 years and say, their mercantilist, Confucian system lost. The Judeo-Christian liberal West won.” …

Mr Trump shares Mr Bannon’s disdain for trade deals, his zero-sum view of the world and his contempt for rivals. He has few fixed positions otherwise. The president has derided and championed immigration, which Mr Bannon considers an adjunct of globalisation; he has supported and scorned military intervention, which Mr Bannon thinks a ruinous elite dalliance. This contrast, between the ideological Mr Bannon and the malleable president, gave rise to a caricature of Mr Bannon as a malevolent Svengali. Yet Mr Trump’s devotion to him was always contingent on Mr Bannon’s ability to deliver wins.

The president has, if not fixed intellectual differences with Mr Bannon, different predilections, including his slavish regard for the military and business elites now stocking his cabinet, whom his former adviser derides. (“What did the elites do?” asks Mr Bannon. “These are the guys who gave us happy talk on Iraq, who let China into the WTO and said it would sign up to the rules-based order.”) When some of Mr Bannon’s early schemes failed — including the shabbily planned travel ban, now snarled up in the courts — Mr Trump turned increasingly to his more conventional advisers, including Mr Kushner and Mr McMaster. On trade and security in particular, they have edged him towards the mainstream.