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Steve Bannon: The Trump-whisperer’s rapid fall from grace

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AFP

In the end, the master provocateur ended up provoking the wrong person in the wrong way at the wrong time.

Up until only a few months ago, Steve Bannon was arguably the second most powerful man in Washington. The president’s one-time chief strategist was the puller of strings, the Trump-whisperer, revelling in his role as an agent of chaos.

Barely 17 months ago, he was among “the best talent in politics” – in Trump’s words.

Now, he’s merely “Sloppy Steve”, the latest person unfortunate enough to be slapped with a derogatory nickname by the US president.

The reason? Bannon was quoted in a new book saying several things that appear to have made his former boss unhappy.

One example that made headlines was that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, had committed a “treasonous” act in talking to Russians.

Soon after last week’s release of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House, Bannon tried and failed to manage the fallout.

By that point, though, the damage was done. Bannon’s backers cut their ties with him, he left the powerful right-wing media empire Breitbart, and the future of the man behind some of Trump’s most headline-grabbing policies has been left up in the air.

Even in a White House where political careers have the life expectancy of a house fly, Bannon’s sudden rise and fall is remarkable. Here’s how it came about.

Bannon joins Team Trump

17 August 2016

As executive chairman of Breitbart – a combative conservative site with an anti-establishment agenda – Bannon was an early cheerleader for Trump and Trumpism.

But it was not until 15 months into the businessman’s presidential race that Bannon joined his team.

By that point he was already, according to a profile on the Bloomberg website, “the most dangerous political operative in America”, a man with Democrats and establishment Republicans in his crosshairs, and a knack for well-timed confrontation. A disruptive Trump presented Bannon with a golden opportunity.

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Sony Pictures Television Inc

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Without Seinfeld, there is no Steve Bannon – it will become clear, don’t worry

Bannon was born into a family of Irish Catholics – all Kennedy Democrats – in Virginia in November 1953.

He was not political, he said, until an eight-year stint with the Navy starting in 1977, when he became a Reagan Republican in response to President Carter’s handling of the Iran conflict.

A master of reinvention, he went on to work as an executive with the Goldman Sachs bank, before helping finance and produce Hollywood films and later emerging as a political Svengali.

His record in Hollywood can be described as patchy at best (“The business runs on talent relationships,” one former colleague told the New Yorker. “He had this real will-to-power vibe that was so off-putting.”)

But Bannon did strike gold in one big way – by negotiating a share of the profits in a new television show, Seinfeld, in 1993. The show ran for nine seasons and was widely syndicated – in November 2016, Forbes estimated that Bannon, if he owned only a 1% share in the show’s profits, would have earned $32.6m (£24m) by that point.

After returning to the US from Shanghai in 2008 feeling the Bush administration was a “disaster”, Bannon was struck by what he described to the New Yorker as “this phenomenon called Sarah Palin”. Bannon warmed to the brand of populism employed by the Alaskan governor picked as John McCain’s Republican running mate in the 2008 presidential race.

That populist wave would come crashing to shore with Trump’s participation in the 2016 election, a wave Bannon proudly rode the whole way. In Trump, he recognised a willing outlet for his idea that, according to Wolff, “the new politics was not the…


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