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Kamis, 04 Januari 2018

Bannon on the brink

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has lost the support of his primary financial backer, Rebekah Mercer, further isolating him and potentially crippling his ambitious plans to reshape the 2018 political landscape.

Mercer, a daughter of billionaire Robert Mercer and a key funder of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, issued a rare public statement on Thursday rebuking Bannon for his scalding attack on Trump and his family in a forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury,” by author Michael Wolff.

"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Mercer said in the statement, which was first reported by The Washington Post. "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 scolding from the reclusive Mercer capped a second day of fallout surrounding the book. The president has blasted Bannon for his remarks and his cooperation with Wolff, saying that Bannon had “lost his mind.”

Neither Bannon nor a spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.


Mercer’s withdrawal of support throws into doubt Bannon’s planned effort to oust establishment-aligned Republicans in the 2018 midterms. The Mercer family has helped to bankroll a number of Bannon-led projects, including Breitbart News, the conservative website Bannon oversees.

And donors appeared cool to Bannon’s overtures: In November, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson publicly broke with Bannon, with a spokesman saying the Republican megadonor planned to support candidates aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, not those backed by Bannon. Bannon had previously met with Adelson in Washington for several hours.

Bannon has struggled to hire staffers for a nascent political group he launched, Citizens of the American Republic, which remains in a state of disorganization. While the former Trump aide has crisscrossed the country to huddle with donors and sell them on a plan to oust incumbents in the midterms, those close to Bannon have been deeply frustrated by his inability to get the group up and running.

The organization is so unformed, one person familiar with it said, that as of Thursday no bank account had been set up and it had no actual funding, just pledges from prospective givers.

More concerning, people close to Bannon said, was the former Trump aide’s decision to go after the president so aggressively — a miscalculation that they argue is almost certain to make his midterm plans harder to achieve. No longer would a Bannon endorsement in a congressional race carry the imprimatur of support from the president, they contended.

“Bannon seems to be cementing his independence from the [Republican] Party and from the White House in addition to his past efforts to distance himself from Sen. McConnell,” said Dan Eberhart, an energy company executive and a Republican Party donor who has been in touch with Bannon in recent months. “I believe he presumes there is a massive grass-roots army behind him. I think the reality is more muted. I am not sure that all this helps him to support Bannonite candidates down the road though.”

It's unclear whether Bannon’s fight with the president will diminish his support among other GOP contributors; he has been especially interested in cultivating funders who are frustrated with McConnell. The former Trump aide has been meeting with a number of donors, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, investor Eric Crown and finance executive Ed Bosarge.


Bannon’s future at Breitbart also appears to be in limbo. Reached on Thursday, several employees of the pro-Trump website declined to say whether Bannon would stay on.

Bannon's break with the Mercer family is a particularly startling turn, given their close, long-running relationship. After departing the White House this summer, the former Trump strategist spent five days huddling with Robert Mercer in New York.

Yet in recent months, as Bannon launched a campaign to oust establishment-aligned Republicans in the 2018 midterms and made repeated trips to Alabama on behalf of the beleaguered Moore, signs of strain emerged. Robert Mercer made clear that he at times did not agree with Bannon in a November message to investors announcing his planned departure from hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.

"I have great respect for Mr. Bannon, and from time to time I do discuss politics with him," Mercer wrote. "However, I make my own decisions with respect to whom I support politically. Those decisions do not always align with Mr. Bannon's."

Eliana Johnson contributed to this report.


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