Two months ago, it seemed that Steve Bannon’s days as a White House adviser to Donald Trump were numbered.
The travel ban he championed and rushed though was becoming a political and legal headache. And the thinking inside the White House was that the administration needed a more moderate approach. It didn’t help matters that Bannon was in an open war with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
But instead of being dumped, Bannon is back in power, and his influence appears to be growing.
The biggest sign of Bannon’s changing fortunes: Trump walked away from the Paris agreement on climate change Thursday afternoon. Withdrawing from the deal was reportedly a hotly contested issue inside the White House. Even 24 hours before Trump announced his decision, he told reporters he wasn’t sure what he was going to do and was hearing from all sides.
The president’s daughter, Ivanka, and adviser Gary Cohn urged the president not to take action. But Bannon and his handpicked choice for the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, urged Trump to leave. Politico reported that both Bannon and Ivanka angled to make sure those sympathetic to their sides were meeting with Trump before the decision.
When Trump did announce the decision, there was Bannon, beaming in the front row of the Rose Garden, while television pundits pointed out how he had once again emerged a winner. After weeks of losing battles to Trump’s son-in-law, he had notched a high-profile win over Trump’s daughter.
But it wasn’t just the victory on the Paris issue. There were signs that his power has grown in recent days.
1. Trump’s first foreign trip had Bannon’s fingerprints all over it.
The president’s major speech on Islam was written by Bannon ally Stephen Miller. When Trump traveled to Europe and scolded other countries and suggested that America was less interested in international cooperation, that was in line with Bannon’s belief that there is a global nationalistic movement underway.
2. Bannon is being tapped to be Trump’s chief defender.
As the trip as wrapping up, there was word that the White House would set up a “war room” to battle questions swirling around the Russia investigation and unflattering leaks from “the deep state.” Leading that war room effort: Bannon.
3. Bannon keeps getting to appoint his people to powerful positions.
Also this week, there was word that Bannon is close to installing a friend to head up the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which essentially oversees all US government outlets that reach foreign audiences. This position allows Bannon to show his influence around the world. Moderate voices in the White House would have preferred a different voice.
It has helped, of course, that Bannon’s main rivals have been distracted and brought down a peg lately. Kushner is reportedly under scrutiny by the FBI for a number of meetings he had with the Russians, possibly including a request to create a communication backchannel with the Kremlin. Plus, Trump reportedly isn’t happy that Kushner’s sister was implying to Chinese investors that US visas could essentially be bought. Meanwhile, Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, has been fighting just to keep his job, as Trump sounds out other people about replacing Priebus.
One person not looking for another job these days: Bannon.