Joshua Green reports: On May 22, just as a strange photo of President Trump, Saudi king Salman, and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi touching a glowing orb reached the apex of its memehood, Steve Bannon, who was lurking somewhere beyond the orb’s glow, got on a plane in Riyadh and flew back to his book-stuffed apartment in a glass high-rise in Arlington, Virginia.
For Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, the months leading up to the trip had been difficult ones. When Trump became president, Bannon quickly entered the popular imagination as both the dark mastermind of Trump’s upset victory and an ethno-nationalist ideologue who, with Trump, would lay siege to “the administrative state” and remake American government in Trump’s image. That agenda brought an early flurry of activity followed by a series of embarrassing upsets: Federal courts blocked Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries, his national-security adviser Michael Flynn left under a cloud of suspicion, and the White House quickly descended into knife-fighting disarray.
Worse for Bannon was that his portrayal as Trump’s puppet-master — as #PresidentBannon — on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere infuriated a boss sharply attuned to his media image and allergic to sharing the stage, especially with someone thought to be controlling him. The killer blow was a February 13 Time cover featuring Bannon’s menacing visage above the headline “The Great Manipulator.”
Soon after the Time cover, encouraged by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Trump humiliated Bannon by stripping him of his position on the National Security Council, cutting him out of key meetings, and declining to voice his faith in Bannon, who he pointedly told The Wall Street Journal was just “a guy who works for me.” He later added that he was his own strategist. Even Bannon’s old friend Matt Drudge turned on him, fanning stories on the Drudge Report that highlighted his fall from power. “Drudge and Bannon have been close forever,” says one outside Bannon ally. “That was a big stab in the back for Steve.” Meanwhile, rumors spread that Kushner was trying to force Bannon out, a claim longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone amplified on Alex Jones’s radio show. Bannon griped to a White House colleague that Kushner was trying to “shiv him and push him out the door,” according to the Daily Beast.
Even as he was bottoming out, Bannon spied the next upturn. [Continue reading…]