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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.

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Why it matters: As misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines runs rampant, researchers are trying to measure how much memes and messages with false information can alter someone's decision to get vaccinated.