Andrew Harnik / AP

Not a lot of people in the White House are having fun these days. But one top official is having a blast — inviting friends over for lunch, joking about good times from the campaign, plotting 2018 and even 2020. He was recently spotted in the West Wing carrying the New York Post cover mocking CNN as "THE MOST BUSTED NAME IN NEWS."

Steve Bannon, the proud culture warrior who was briefly and very publicly in the Trump doghouse, is ascendant after what friends call a period of "hibernation."

"He's not cocky -- he's comfortable," said a longtime friend. "And he understands the game."

His ideas are being taken seriously, and his worldview is clearly in Trump's head:

  • Bannon loves, enables, encourages the smackdowns with the media.
  • Bannon loves, enables, encourages the middle finger to NATO, and Germany in particular.
  • Bannon loves, enables and encourages the instincts that led Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate deal.
  • Bannon loves, enables, encourages tougher tone and trade action against China.
  • Bannon loves, enables encourages a hard line on immigration.
  • Bannon loves, enables, encourages a base-first and often base-only strategy.

"Trump loves the fight, and Bannon loves the fight," another friend said.

In many ways, being cornered and lashing out is Trump's comfort emotion; and his chief strategist is always there to feed it.

Events in this madcap West Wing have conspired to give Bannon back much of his mojo: He's clearly going to stay, after being long rumored to be on the outs. He's no longer in a hot war with Jared Kushner. He played a key role in developing the Russia response. And he's back to pushing ideas the GOP establishment hates, including a tax hike on the rich and trade wars.

Bannon's insurance policy is that he's the keeper of the base. Trump understands he's never going to be broadly popular, so he absolutely has to preserve his 46%.

Axios' Jonathan Swan says that behind closed doors, Trump talks constantly about the base as "my people" and "our people": "What does this mean for my people?"

Be smart: The biggest reason that Bannon is back is that his worldview is Trump's worldview. For the all the ups and downs, in-and-out-of-favor drama, Trump is more Bannon than he is Jared or Ivanka.

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter a valid email.
Server error. Please try a different email.
Subscribed! Look for Axios AM and PM in your inbox tomorrow or read the latest Axios AM now.

Go deeper

Deadly Hurricane Zeta slams U.S. Gulf Coast

A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. Photo: National Hurricane Center/NOAA

Hurricane Zeta has killed at least one person after a 55-year-old man was "electrocuted by a downed power line" in Louisiana as the storm caused widespread power outages Wednesday night, per AP.

What's happening: Zeta made landfall south of New Orleans as a Category 2 hurricane earlier Wednesday before weakening to Category 1. But it was still "battering southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi with life-threatening storm surge, high winds, and heavy rain" late Wednesday, per the National Hurricane Center.

Updated 28 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan as cases surge in the Midwest.
  2. Health: Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022 — Trump's testing czar: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests Some coronavirus survivors have "autoantibodies."
  3. Business: Consumer confidence sinking Testing is a windfall.
  4. World: Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  5. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
55 mins ago - Health

Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, testifies during a September Senate hearing on COVID-19 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday he doesn't expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be ready until January 2021 or later.

What he's saying: Fauci said during the interview that the U.S. was in a "bad position" after failing to keep case numbers down post-summer. "We should have been way down in baseline and daily cases and we’re not," he said.