There was no light saber, and Steve Bannon’s voice wasn’t a James Earl Jones bass, but those attending the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington this week could be forgiven if they mistook President Trump’s chief strategist for Darth Vader.
Bannon, a right-wing nationalist and former executive with Breitbart News, gave the hard-core conservatives who typically attend CPAC meetings not just a peek behind the curtain of the Trump agenda. He pulled it all the way back, and his words will again stir the Trump base but likely disturb mainstream conservatives, particularly in Congress, where leaders are getting nervous watching Trump’s approval ratings drop and fearing theirs will do likewise.
Bannon hit all his (and Trump’s) favorite targets: He called the media “the opposition party,” and reckoned this of the president’s political foes: “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.” In other words, Donald Trump has retrieved the country for conservatives to control.
And Bannon revealed all, about the reasons behind the president’s curious Cabinet choices. The plan, he said, was “deconstruction of the administrative state,” which he and Trump apparently believes robs people of their independence and hurts economic growth.
So that’s why Trump nominated a labor secretary who wants to replace workers at his fast-food restaurants with robots, an energy secretary who once advocated abolishing the department and an education secretary who doesn’t care much for public schools.
Now we’ve got it.
If Bannon didn’t have the ear of a president without political experience, and without much history of political positions, his presence in the White House might be viewed as a sort of off-the-wall amusement. But there’s nothing funny about a hard-right ideologue with no tolerance for other viewpoints sitting in the Oval Office every day telling a president naive in the ways of government how to take the government apart.
However, the Republican leaders of Congress don’t like being ordered around by a presidential coat-holder, and they’ll recognize that Bannon’s extremism will do the president and them no favors as Trump’s term proceeds.
But how much damage will be done before Trump and Bannon part ways?