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Steve Bannon’s disappearing act

Steve Bannon has largely disappeared from the White House’s most sensitive policy debates — a dramatic about-face for an operative once characterized as the most powerful man in Washington.

Bannon, chastened by internal rivalries and by President Donald Trump’s growing suspicion that he is looking out for his own interests, is in a self-imposed exile, having chosen to step back from Trump’s inner circle for the sake of self-preservation, according to several White House advisers who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering a colleague.

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He was absent from Trump’s recent trips to Europe for the G-20 summit and from his visit French president Emmanuel Macron. Bannon’s non-attendance is all the more noteworthy given his interest in European history and politics, particularly his antipathy to the European Union.

And while Trump’s rousing call in Warsaw for the defense of Western civilization echoed the populist ideology Bannon promoted as chief of the right-wing website Breitbart News, two senior White House aides said that Bannon had no hand in crafting Trump’s populist address. He did not participate in administration conference calls planning the remarks, they say, which were largely written by chief speechwriter Stephen Miller, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and NSC communications aide Michael Anton.

“His name wasn’t even mentioned,” said a senior White House aide involved in the speechwriting process.

Whereas Bannon was, not long ago, a near-constant presence in the Oval Office — often seen standing over Trump’s shoulder or sitting in on calls with world leaders — he now spends hours camped out at the conference table in the office of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, reading the news or working on his phone, according to a senior White House aide.

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Senior administration officials say a lower profile might suit a man once derided by critics as “President Bannon,” whose growing fame, including an appearance on the cover of Time magazine as “The Great Manipulator” and a spoofing by Saturday Night Live as a Grim Reaper shadowing the president reportedly irritated Trump. The president resented Bannon’s mythical status as the Svengali behind his improbable election, and called several reporters and television personalities complaining that Bannon was stealing credit for his victory.

Bannon is more comfortable operating in the shadows between government, big money and right-wing media, according to senior administration officials, who describe Bannon in such terms as “invisible,” “AWOL,” and “missing in action.”

That said, he continues to play an important role as a foul-weather friend to Trump, coaching his boss through the nonstop crises buffeting the West Wing. When Bannon returned early from Trump’s first foreign trip in May, for example, it was to quarterback the White House's response to the metastasizing Russia scandal — which consumes his time and energy.

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