It is a mark of Steve Bannon's extraordinary sway in the Trump White House that a man who has spoken so little in public over the past two weeks is getting so much credit — and blame — for what's going on.
The conservative media executive's fingerprints are on virtually every significant move taken by President Donald Trump, from Trump's sweeping order to suspend the country's refugee program and block visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Trump raised eyebrows and hackles when he gave Bannon a seat on the powerful National Security Council Principals Committee. Bannon, a shaggy-haired agitator-turned-insider eager to make a lasting mark on Washington, was a strong advocate for Gorsuch, according to a person who spoke with him recently. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss a private conversation.
Bannon's early moves to consolidate power haven't come without pushback.
In a phone call Monday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Acting Secretary of State Tom Shannon asked the White House to take a back seat in cleaning up confusion caused by the chaotic rollout of the immigration order, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly about internal government discussions.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters disputed the portrayal of the call with Homeland Security, saying it was the White House that reached out and asked other agencies to take the lead.
Still, the extent of Bannon's influence was underscored by Trump's striking decision over the weekend to add his name to the roster of top national security hands who meet on the Principals Committee, not typically the province of political strategist.
"Steve's the main ideological mover of the administration. He's the chief ideological officer and he has a strong point of view," said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax and a friend of the president. "I think the bond is their world view."
The 64-year-old Bannon shares Trump's business and media experience, as well as his dramatic flair. He's a fellow disruptor who helped Trump capitalize on the populist anger and frustration that propelled them both to the White House.
Rarely seen or heard during Trump's campaign, Bannon is now a fixture.
If Trump is moving quickly to overthrow the established order, Bannon is the one fomenting rebellion.
If White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is there to maintain order and focus, Bannon is there to wage war.
"He wants to be the intellectual, strategist bomb-thrower," says former House Speaker and informal Trump adviser Newt Gingrich, who sees Bannon as the perfect ally to the president in disrupting the status quo. "He does not want to be the guy who makes the trains run on time."
Bannon has cultivated a near-diabolical image in his rare, headline-making interviews.
He recently told The New York Times he sees the media as "the opposition party," and advised the press to "keep its mouth shut" after it underestimated Trump.
"Darkness is good," he told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after Trump's win. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power."
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