After Steve Bannon departed the White House on August 14, he contacted The Weekly Standard to make a bold proclamation. “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” the administration’s now-former chief strategist said. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else.”
Like all propagandists, Bannon has a tendency to exaggerate. But in this case, he does have a point: His departure marks the culmination of Donald Trump’s bait-and-switch presidential campaign. Trump won, in part, because he portrayed himself as an economic populist who would not seek to police the world. Bannon played a key role in pushing those policies, though they never gained much traction in the Trump White House. His departure now confirms President Trump as an interventionist Wall Street Republican. Worst of all, Trump will clearly retain the toxic racial politics that Bannon also championed.
The “Party of Davos,” as Bannon calls it, has won the influence battle inside the White House. Trump’s economic team consists primarily of billionaires, former financial-sector honchos, or both: people like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and others. Meanwhile, former generals wield nearly unprecedented power in the White House: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and John Kelly, the president’s new chief of staff.
Bannon prided himself as the “keeper of the promises” and tracked Trump’s major campaign pledges on a whiteboard in his office. But it is clear that Bannon wasn’t very successful. He reportedly pressed Trump to keep his campaign promise to avoid foreign entanglements and focus on the need to rebuild America, but Trump has now recommitted himself to the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan by ordering a troop surge that will begin immediately. Trump also escalated the US presence in Syria, redoubled our support of Saudi Arabia’s ugly war against Yemen, has been gearing up for a face-off with Iran, and randomly threatened US military involvement in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
On trade, Bannon championed Trump’s campaign posture against the failed trade policies of the past. He insisted, correctly, that our trade deficit with China was a real security threat, and that the issue shouldn’t be dropped in return for Chinese cooperation on North Korea. But Trump ended up adopting the establishment position and abandoned his charge that China was a currency manipulator. Instead of scrapping NAFTA, Trump has agreed to renegotiate it. His commerce secretary has even suggested that the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which Trump trashed for over a year straight on the campaign trail—might be a template for those negotiations.