Pressure is mounting on President Trump to dump his controversial chief strategist Stephen Bannon after this weekend’s racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., provoked widespread anger at the nationalist wing of Trump’s White House.
Democrats, and some Republican critics of Trump, are demanding he cut ties with Bannon, the former Breitbart News chairman who once described his site as the “platform for the alt-right.”
Adviser Sebastian Gorka, who once wrote for the publication, has also come under criticism.
“If he doesn’t want this to consume his presidency, he needs to purge anyone involved with the alt-right,” said Rick Tyler, the former campaign spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“Breitbart has become a pejorative … It has been a vehicle for the alt-right,” Tyler said. “You can’t allow the Oval Office to be a vehicle for the alt-right.”
That sentiment was echoed countless times over the weekend by a broad spectrum of Washington insiders, including establishment Republicans and Democratic lawmakers.
“If the president is sincere about rejecting white supremacists, he should remove all doubt by firing Steve Bannon and the other alt-right white supremacist sympathizers in the White House,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Monday.
She said the president’s widely panned initial reaction to the Charlottesville violence was a “direct reflection of the fact” that Bannon “is an alt-right white supremacist sympathizer and a shameless enforcer of those un-American beliefs.”
When the president arrived back in Washington on Monday from his New Jersey golf club, he ignored a shouted question from a reporter about whether he’d fire Bannon and Gorka.
The White House did not respond when asked if the president still has confidence in Bannon and Gorka.
Bannon’s allies and Breitbart’s defenders are frustrated by what they view as the reactionary response to tar them as racists every time a racially-charged event takes over the news cycle.
“Breitbart has never been racist, it’s been a flashpoint for people to write in frustration about the government failing them,” said one former Trump transition adviser. “Under Bannon it became a nationalist economic platform, not a racial one, but now when the left sees anything about national economic populism all they see is race. That’s their bias, not ours. It’s been completely bastardized by the media and the left. That’s what talented political operators do, they try to take away your best weapon.”
Bannon has proven resilient amid the turmoil and turnover that has racked the West Wing in recent weeks, in part because Trump’s base of grass-roots supporters view him as the beating heart of the president’s America-first agenda.
Trump’s supporters warn that firing Bannon could have unintended political consequences for the president.
“I absolutely believe it would be a huge mistake by the president to fire Bannon,” said Debbie Dooley, a longtime Tea Party activist. “He’d be turning his back on the people that got him elected and there would be a rebellion among his base.”