Stephen Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election by embracing their shared nationalist impulses, departed the White House on Friday after a turbulent tenure.
Mr Bannon’s exit came as Mr Trump is under fire for saying that “both sides” were to blame for last week’s deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Critics accused the president of channeling Mr Bannon when he equated white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the left-wing protesters who opposed them.
“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.
Mr Bannon’s outsized influence on the president, captured in a February cover of Time magazine with the headline “The Great Manipulator,” was reflected in the response to his departure.
Conservatives groused that they lost a key advocate inside the White House and worried Mr Trump would shift left, while cheers erupted on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
In an interview this week with The American Prospect, Mr Bannon mocked his colleagues, including Gary Cohn, one of the president’s chief economic advisers, saying they were “wetting themselves” out of a fear of radically changing trade policy.
Mr Trump had recently grown weary of Mr Bannon, complaining to other advisers that he believed his chief strategist had been leaking information to reporters and was taking too much credit for the president’s successes.
By Friday night, Mr Bannon was already back at the far-right Breitbart News, chairing an editorial meeting at the organisation he helped run before joining Mr Trump’s campaign.
Mr Bannon can still wield influence from outside the West Wing. He believes he can use his perch at Breitbart — which has given a platform to a loose collection of activists, some of whom espouse openly racist and anti-Semitic views — to publicly pressure the president.
“In many ways I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on. And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with,” Mr Bannon said on Friday.
But his former colleagues in the West Wing are uncertain how long that will last.
Joel Pollak, a Breitbart executive, tweeted after Mr. Bannon’s departure was made public a single word with a hashtag: “#WAR.” Mr Bannon called reporters to suggest Mr Pollak had gone too far, but acknowledged his own disappointment at departing the White House.
He told The Weekly Standard: “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. 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.”
Mr Bannon later clarified to The New York Times that he did not mean the Trump agenda was over but was referring to his direct work with Mr Trump.
Contentious and difficult, Mr Bannon was nonetheless a driving force behind the president’s most high-profile policies: imposing a ban on travellers from several majority-Muslim countries; shrinking the federal bureaucracy; shedding regulations; and rethinking trade policies by aggressively confronting China and other countries.
Mr Bannon had become increasingly critical of Mr Trump, complaining the president lacked political skills and discipline. He also complained about the president’s provocative and unscripted threats to North Korea.
Mr Bannon frequently clashed with Mr Kushner and others in the administration who sought a more traditional, globalist approach.
According to people close to the discussions, Mr Trump and Mr Bannon agreed the previous week he would depart. But the violence in Charlottesville pushed Mr Bannon closer to Mr Trump; he encouraged the president to stand by his impulses in his response and sought to stay on longer.
That became untenable after the interview in which he mocked colleagues, though he later said he thought was off the record.
– The New York Times