KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Breitbart News has announced this afternoon that its larger-than-life chairman is out. Stephen Bannon's departure is directly linked to his blistering assessment of President Trump's intelligence and fitness for the job in a book that was published last week. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been covering the Bannon rollercoaster for years from his days at Breitbart to the White House and now perhaps to the dog house. David's with us from New York. Hey, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So Bannon's job at Breitbart was executive chairman, and his job was also to say outrageous things, right? I mean, what tipped this over the edge to his dismissal?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, Breitbart certainly defined his job as being something of a rhetorical bomb thrower usually aimed at the left or those within the Republican and conservative establishments he saw as insufficiently devoted to his brand and his version of conservatism. In this case, he's aiming at inside the White House and inside the president's inner-circle, suggesting that the president's son Donald Jr. and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had somehow engaged possibly in criminal or even treasonous acts by meeting with Russian figures in the summer of 2016 and by - as you mentioned, by just castigating the president for a lack of intelligence, a lack of focus, a lack of seriousness of purpose and conveying sort of a contempt in the idea that somehow Trump was a vehicle for what he wanted to accomplish.
You know, the Mercer family - Robert Mercer had been a major funder, had sold his stake in November in Breitbart to his daughters. Rebekah Mercer, who remained one of the owners, issued a statement saying the writing was on the wall, denouncing Bannon for what he had to say. And the Mercers had really - had been putting money behind Trump's causes and Trump's interests in recent months. So the writing was there.
MCEVERS: Yeah. I mean, remind us quickly. What was his legacy at Breitbart and with the Trump campaign and then at the White House?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, Bannon sort of sees himself as something of a messianic figure. He took over Breitbart News after the death of its founder and namesake, Andrew Breitbart. And it was a really conservative site, but he pulled it farther rightward. And he - as he told Mother Jones magazine once, he saw it as a platform for the "alt-right," which is this loose conglomeration umbrella term for certain kinds of cultural conservatives, men's rights activists and certain, you know, white supremacists, actual outright racists.
He didn't want to necessarily express those views himself, but he wanted them to be real comfortable on Breitbart. And he used that as a vehicle to ultimately promote Trump's candidacy as he saw Trump gaining steam and as he saw Trump championing causes like the border wall, like a kind of - exclusionary policies towards people from certain Muslim countries that he could then promote from Breitbart and ultimately promote from inside the White House.
MCEVERS: Yeah. Bannon of course returned to Breitbart after leaving the White House and promised to build this new populist, conservative movement, you know? And I think the big question now is, who has control of those voters? Is it Bannon? Is it Breitbart? Is it Trump?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, it's a really interesting question. You've seen Trump's approval scores go down and down, and it's sort of to a hardened, smaller base that seems to be still supportive of him. Breitbart's own traffic has gone down significantly since the election and over the first year in office - the Trump White House. And Bannon, you know, seems largely in some ways vulnerable or marginalized by virtue of his championing of Roy Moore in that Alabama Senate race that really lost that seat for the Republican Party.
MCEVERS: What are we to make of Bannon's rise and fall, then? And you know, will there be another rise again? What do we learn from all this?
FOLKENFLIK: I think there are two things you can take from it. It certainly is a signal example of just extraordinary egotism and the idea that somehow he had the answers to fill in the great vacuum of ideas that he saw in Trump himself. And the second thing is, you know, in some ways, he did represent the spear that provided an injury and in some ways exposed the widening fissures within the Republican Party and the conservative movement itself. I think in some ways, he's a manifestation rather than a cause of those divisions.
FOLKENFLIK: But, boy, you know, he sure served as a bomb going off amid a lot of these culturally conservative institutions.
MCEVERS: NPR's David Folkenflik, thanks.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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