Statements made by Bannon criticizing the campaign and the soon-to-be president in the forthcoming book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" first caused the rift. Author Michael Wolff quotes Bannon as saying Trump's campaign was "so f*cked up" to the point of being a "broke-dick campaign" before he became chief executive of election efforts in mid-August 2016.
On January 3, 17 days before Trump was inaugurated, Bannon attended a dinner in New York with late Fox News titan Roger Ailes. At one point, Ailes inquired, "What has he gotten himself into with the Russians?" according to Wolff.
"Mostly," Bannon replied, "he went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin. But Putin couldn't give a shit about him. So he's kept trying."
Bannon was removed from the White House in late August after making explosive comments calling for an "economic war" with China and stating the US had zero military options regarding North Korea. At the time, Sputnik News radio host Lee Stranahan, a former Bannon colleague from when the two worked at Breitbart News together, predicted, "Bannon's plan is not to trash the president." Stranahan was not alone: others warned that Bannon would only continue to fight for the president's agenda through the mouthpiece of Breitbart, to whose helm he returned.
Trump didn't waste a moment in firing back against Bannon. "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Trump said in a Wednesday statement distributed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The administration is now at work trying to quash Bannon and the book. Attorneys representing Trump sent Bannon a five-page cease and desist notice. "Legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander and breach of his written confidentiality agreement and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent."
The White House demanded the publisher of Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," stop the release of the book and apologize to the president. On Thursday, the published stated it plans to move forward with the book instead of bowing to the government's demands. "We see ‘Fire and Fury' as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse and are proceeding with the publication of the book," a spokeswoman for Henry Holt & Company told The Hill.
The company actually moved the release date up from January 9 to January 5, "due to unprecedented demand," they said. Excerpts of the book were first leaked to the Guardian on Wednesday.
The Trump-Bannon feud could be the straw that breaks the camel's back regarding Bannon's affiliation with Breitbart. Billionaire owners Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah were "shocked and horrified" by Bannon's comments in the book, a person familiar with their views told the Wall Street Journal.
"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Rebekah Mercer said Thursday, the Washington Post reported. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."
The Mercers and other Breitbart News Network, LLC board members are considering removing Bannon from his role as chairman of the conservative publication, sources familiar with the situation told WSJ Thursday. Asked the same day whether Breitbart should cut ties with Bannon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I certainly think that it's something they should look at and consider."
"Bannon's a smart guy," Stranahan, now a Sputnik News radio host, said Thursday on Radio Sputnik's Fault Lines, but he admitted, "he hasn't acted like it, it's very hard to find proof of that."
Bannon's invective against Trump may be part of a plan to run for president in 2020, Stranahan said. "He clearly has ambitions that way. I think he was waiting for 2020. Here's what Steve [Bannon] wants to happen: he wants the president to fail." If Trump "fails," Bannon can reintroduce the argument that Washington's "swamp" needs to be drained, and Trump was sunk when he didn't drain it fast enough.
Bannon has made a flurry of radio and media appearances since the feud started, which Stranahan viewed as a strategy “testing the waters to see, in this rift, where his support base is.” But “if it's Bannon versus Trump, Trump’s going to win,” Stranahan said on Thursday’s episode of Loud & Clear.
For instance, Bannon has long sought to remove Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from power. Trump, on the other hand, has become increasingly aligned with McConnell: the Kentucky senator helped pass the president's prized tax legislation and has since gushed over Trump's condemnation of his former chief strategist, reportedly telling Trump the repudiation of Bannon was "perfect."
Some Bannon benefactors are starting to lose faith. "If he's not President Trump's wingman on the outside, I don't really know what Steve Bannon's constituency is," GOP donor Dan Eberhart told the WSJ. Another Republican donor, Doug Deason, said that while Bannon is "brilliant," his ego is getting in the way of the agenda he cares about. "Anyone who was even considering giving him money — I can't imagine they would do that now," Deason said.
Another possibility is that Bannon's strategic vision may be clouded by Breitbart and the people who work at the publication, according to Stranahan. "It's become a cult over there," he said, referring to a tendency of Breitbart employees to operate within a singular echo chamber.