Donald Trump rises with Steve Bannon's fall

by Jonathan Allen /  / Updated 
Image: Bannon, Spicer and Priebus attend an event at the White House
Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus attend the announcement of the Supreme Court nominee at the White House on Jan. 31, 2017.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

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Steve Bannon has unified the Republican Party — against Steve Bannon.

And President Donald Trump stands to benefit most from his former chief strategist's comeuppance.

Without Bannon barking in his ear — and nipping at the heels of Republican senators — it will be easier for Trump to deliver on the remainder of a legislative agenda that threatens to strain his base over issues such as federal spending, government wiretaps and immigration.

Similarly, a weakened Bannon figures to have less firepower to challenge sitting Republican senators — and imperil Trump's GOP majority — in this year's midterm elections.

And, perhaps most important for Trump, the president has sent a clear message that he won't tolerate Bannon trying to drive a wedge between him and his political base ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

That may help explain why Trump weighed in so decisively against Bannon, essentially signaling to fellow Republicans that it was time to choose between the two men.

That was a fight Bannon, the self-styled general of the "populist nationalist" side of the GOP civil war, couldn't possibly win.

"In a clash of personal brands, Bannon's name ID and bully pulpit is just so much smaller than Trump's among the Republican base that there's really no contest," said Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence and the director of research, analytics and digital strategy for Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign.

Republican donor Dan Eberhart, CEO of the oilfield services company Canary, said Bannon's power with the GOP base comes from Trump.

"The grass roots is with Trump and they were with Bannon because of Trump," Eberhart said. "But if Bannon is throwing Trump under the bus, I don’t see how that logic holds."

Abandoned, Bannon essentially sued for peace Thursday during his Breitbart-branded radio program on Sirius XM.

"There is no one we think higher of than President Trump and the agenda, so let's not let the left-wing media stir that up," Bannon said, adding that Trump has had a "heroic" first year in office.

Bannon's fiercest critics portrayed Trump's attack as a final, brutal blow.

"The entire party had moved on from Steve Bannon long ago," said Josh Holmes, former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom Bannon has been trying to depose. "The only lifeline of relevance that he maintained was a relationship with the president."

Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist who has been highly critical of both Bannon and Trump, said it could be particularly devastating to Bannon if conservative donors like the Mercer family cut him off financially and he can't replace the money.

"It’s one thing to be an arsonist when you’ve got a billionaire writing checks for you," Rick Wilson said. "It’s another thing when you’ve got to do it on your own dime."

And the candidates for whom Bannon has sometimes acted as a conduit with donors may not need him as a middle man. One super PAC, Remember Mississippi, formed to help state Sen. Chris McDaniel win a Republican primary, will soon report having raised about $1.1 million, according to two people familiar with the committee's war chest.

About $500,000 of the money comes from the Mercer family — billionaire Robert and his daughter Rebekah —the sources said.

While Bannon is also a big McDaniel backer, the Mercers have formed their own relationships with McDaniel and other GOP candidates. And they have distanced themselves from Bannon: Robert said last year that while he supports many of the same candidates as Bannon, he is independent from the former Trump strategist, and Rebekah, according to The Washington Post, has said she's ready to cut off funding to Bannon.

Several Republicans said they expect Bannon to remain in the fight because he's still got a platform from which he can wreak havoc on adversaries in the Trump White House and the GOP.

"Bottom line is that Bannon versus Trump is a battle Bannon loses and he knows it," said Chris Wilson. "That's why even today he's reiterating his support for Trump. But Bannon versus others in the White House, with Breitbart as his megaphone, is a fight that could still influence how the base sees the Trump presidency."

Bannon is a "drug-resistant" strain, Rick Wilson said. "He'll be back."

Hugh Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

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