McMaster vs. Bannon for the Soul of the White House

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If it wasn’t obvious before, it’s out in the open now. There is a steadily growing rift inside the White House between Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. And while the reports about the rift are credible enough to take on faith, all doubt was laid to rest when McMaster appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. Host Chuck Todd asked McMaster if he could work productively with Bannon going forward, and McMaster simply refused to directly answer the question – three times!

“Can you and Steve Bannon still work together in this White House or not?” Todd asked.

“I get to work together with a broad range of talented people, and it is a privilege every day to enable the national security team,” McMaster replied in his best impersonation of a politician.

“You didn’t answer,” Todd said. “Can you and Steve Bannon work in that same White House?”

Again, McMaster dodged. “I am ready to work with anybody who will help advance the president’s agenda and advance the security and prosperity of the American people.”

Todd tried one more time. “Do you believe Steve Bannon does that?”

“I believe that everyone who works in the White House who has the privilege, the great privilege every day of serving their nation should be motivated by that goal,” McMaster said.

In this era of Anthony Scaramucci and the president blatantly bashing his own attorney general, McMaster’s diss of Bannon sounds downright quaint by comparison. But if you have any taste at all for subtlety, there’s no mistaking the tension that clearly exists between the two men.

Of course, there’s much more out there about this percolating feud. In fact, speaking of Scaramucci, the “blink and you missed him” former White House communications director told ABC News this weekend that Trump needs to drop Bannon and the followers of his old conservative online stomping grounds, Breitbart News.

“If the president really wants to execute that legislative agenda that I think is so promising for the American people, then he has to move away from that sort of Bannon/Bart nonsense,” said Scaramucci. “I think the President knows what he’s going to do with Steve Bannon. It’s his decision. But I mean at the end of the day, I think the President has a very good idea of who the leakers are inside the White House. The President has a very good idea of the people that are undermining his agenda that are serving their own interests.”

McMaster has been widely derided in recent weeks as being a consummate representative of the old Washington establishment, and many Trump supporters are worried about his growing influence in the White House – especially if it comes at the expense of Bannon, whose nationalist philosophies are viewed as being much more in line with the Donald Trump voters hoped they were getting. So far, though, the White House has been solidly defending McMaster from the criticism, and reports suggest that Trump may be souring on Bannon for a number of reasons.

Whether Steve Bannon, the man, remains in the administration or not is a matter of trivial importance. Whether Bannon’s views – many of which we have taken to be Trump’s views – remain is not. As loathsome as it is to watch Democrats obstruct Trump’s agenda, it would be even sadder to watch Trump himself abandon it. Hopefully, that’s not coming.