Steve Bannon threatened to leave the White House after he was ousted from the National Security Council, it has been reported, and was only convinced to stay by a hardline conservative Republican “mega donor” telling him “this is a long-term play.”
Mr Bannon, the deeply controversial advisor to President Donald Trump, was removed from the NSC on Wednesday.
His appointment to the committee had been provocative from the start – political appointees are not normally allowed to sit on the panel.
H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, who took over from his disgraced predecessor Michael Flynn in February, was said to have been uncomfortable with Mr Bannon’s presence.
And his removal is being seen as a “normalisation” of the council – accompanied by the restoration of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence as permanent members. Both permanent positions had been eliminated in January as part of a reorganisation of the NSC, shortly after Trump first took office.
White House sources told The Atlantic that Mr Bannon’s removal had been long planned, and that the 63-year-old was only ever there to keep an eye on Mr Flynn.
But Politico provided a different interpretation, with reports that Mr Bannon was furious at the demotion. One person told the site that he had threatened to resign if Mr Trump went through with it.
But he was calmed by Rebekah Mercer, the 43-year-old director of the Mercer Family Foundation, set up by her hedge fund manager father Robert.
The Mercers are among the most influential, deep-pocketed Republican donors and long-time supporters of Mr Bannon.
“Rebekah Mercer prevailed upon him to stay,” said one person familiar with the situation.
Another person, described as a Republican operative who talks to the Mercers, said: “Bekah tried to convince him that this is a long-term play.”
The source added: “If Bannon leaves the White House, Bekah’s access and influence shrinks dramatically.”
The White House has denied that Mr Bannon ever threatened to resign, and Mr Bannon told Politico the story was “total nonsense”.
But the Mercers, and Mr Bannon, are said to be growing frustrated at what they perceive as the White House’s shift away from the populist policies that got Mr Trump elected.
They are reported to be concerned at a power struggle between Mr Bannon and Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, who has an ever-growing portfolio and increasingly influential role.
The “big fight is between nationalists and the West Wing Democrats,” said a person familiar with Mr Bannon’s thinking, speaking to Politico.
“You have these New York interlocutors who are just not political and who want to think that they’re above the way Washington thinks.
“But if anybody is allied on delivering on things that Trump ran on, it’s Bannon and Reince and the vice president.”