Read almost any account of l’affaire Wolff and the feud between Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, and you’ll see it described as a self-immolation and defenestration of Bannon. Even mainstream press outfits fell to praising Trump for his “Sloppy Steve” moniker for his onetime chief strategist.
To be sure, things are not looking great for Bannon at the moment, and his deserved fall from grace carries the self-destructive elements of Shakespearian tragedy. Bannon is a contemptible racist and arrogant megalomaniac obsessed with preserving white and western supremacy, a man who thought he could control and use Trump for his own ends while essentially remaking the entire Republican Party in his image. Although he helped to secure Trump’s electoral victory, he was unable to maintain a hold on power in the White House as Trumped increasingly drifted into the Fox News and Republican establishment orbit. And now Bannon has lost the financial support of his longtime allies the billionaire Mercers.
But over the longer term I wouldn’t count Bannon out of the picture. The Republican Party no longer controls its media channels but is rather controlled by them. Breitbart remains an increasingly influential force on the right, and Bannon’s virulent white supremacy is more popular with the deplorable GOP than ever. Bannon is independently wealthy and ideologically driven, and he won’t go away quietly as long as his health remains.
Donald Trump is a different story. Trump may appear to have the Republican Party wrapped around his finger, but that is a temporary condition. Republicans can’t live without Trump, but they can’t live with him, either. The president is obviously unfit for office, deeply unpopular and unable to secure victories beyond what McConnell and Ryan provide for him. His corruption and Russia issues remain an albatross on the Republican Party, and will be devastating once the finding of Mueller’s probe are released.
At some point soon, whether after his defeat in the 2020 election or after his resignation beforehand, Republicans will quickly move to pretend he never existed and that they never liked him in the first place. They will try to replicate the Trumpism that animates their base, but with figureheads not quite so obviously blinkered and compromised.
Bannon faces no such prospect. He will continue to push his particular brand of bigotry on the Republican base, regardless of what happens to Donald Trump. He will find other candidates and figureheads to carry his twisted torch.
Trump, on the other hand, lives only for Trump. When he falls, there will be no recovery. And Bannon will likely have the last laugh.