I say “suddenly” because Bannon was one of the big critics of the decision to fire James Comey, remember. It was Jared Kushner who allegedly urged Trump to drop the axe on him over stern warnings from Bannon that it would risk wrecking Trump’s presidency. Bannon later called it the biggest mistake in modern political history on “60 Minutes.” Now here he is babbling to WaPo about how it’s time to fire Rod Rosenstein, fire attorney Ty Cobb, and, ah, assert executive privilege retroactively over information volunteered by White House aides to Mueller on the theory that the president got terrible advice from his lawyers in not insisting that they assert it before.
I hope Trump listens to him, as I’d love to see our billionaire president argue “ineffective assistance of counsel” to a judge. That’s something you usually hear from a poor convict who got stuck with a public defender who didn’t defend him as vigorously as he should have. Imagine the most powerful man in the world, allegedly worth north of 10 digits and able to hire any attorney under the sun, trying to assert it as a form of buyer’s remorse over his legal team.
But never mind that or the cockamamie “retroactive privilege” idea. What angle is Bannon working here?
There is no indication that Trump, who forced out Bannon and later said his former adviser had “lost his mind” after leaving the West Wing, would be willing to take Bannon’s advice or is aware of the plan. Several Trump aides also remain skeptical of the former strategist’s attempt to insert himself into the president’s decision-making process.
“If you say his name in front of the president, it’s not a pretty sight,” said a senior administration official. “The president really goes off about him.”…
Ever since, Bannon has seen his domestic political operation — which was focused on the 2018 midterm elections — fizzle, and his attention has turned abroad to boosting far-right nationalist candidates in Europe, giving speeches and promoting his hard-line views on global affairs. Amid all of that activity, he has regularly spoken with White House officials and lawmakers about Trump and offered informal guidance on issues such as trade and the Russia investigation.
One possibility is that this is part of a wider messaging effort being coordinated by the West Wing. Despite the bit in the excerpt about Trump supposedly bristling at the mention of Bannon’s name, it could be that he’s quietly nudging his cronies to start preparing the media battlespace for the inevitable Rosenstein firing. As Maggie Haberman noted, suddenly you’ve got Bannon demanding that Rosenstein be fired in WaPo, Joe diGenova claiming on Fox News that he’d fire Rosenstein immediately, and Lou Dobbs insisting on Fox Business that he’d fire Rosenstein in “three seconds.” According to Bloomberg, Trump discussed firing Rosenstein with aides as recently as yesterday. Maybe he’s calling in favors from friends to push the “Rosenstein must go” line to Republican viewers knowing that Rosenstein will indeed soon go. Even Trump’s base may need a little persuading on that point.
Another possibility is that Bannon is desperate to get back in Trump’s good graces and is now pandering to him as sweatily as he can. He knows Trump loves a “fighter,” he knows how aggrieved Trump is by Russiagate, so he’s abandoning the judicious line he took towards Comey as a White House strategist and embracing the #WAR ethos that appeals to Trump and his populist fans. If it’s true that Trump still isn’t giving him the time of day, a very public display of siding with the president against his DOJ enemies might change that. No one is exiled forever from TrumpWorld, after all. Does Bannon want to spend the next few years giving speeches at European fascist party conferences while the audiences grow increasingly confused about who he is, or does he want to be a man of influence again among America’s populist right? Bannon likes to attack and he’s suddenly showing himself willing, ready, and able to attack the people Trump wants to attack most. The president could use a man like that.
I have a pet theory about his real motivation, though, which I think he hints at in this quote to WaPo:
“I have the utmost respect for Bob Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but the developments over the past two weeks make it the right time to shift the center of gravity of this back to Capitol Hill,” Bannon said. “Make the Republican Party own this, force them to have his back.”
Why, oh why, would Steve Bannon want to force the unholy clusterfark of Russiagate firings onto a Republican Party that’s already at enormous risk of losing its majority in the House and just lost its leader yesterday? Firing Rosenstein or especially Mueller would trigger a civil war within the party like nothing else short of Trump’s impeachment. Populists would rally to Trump, the rest of the party would split bitterly pro and con on the firing. Democrats would feast on the chaos, warning Americans that only they can be trusted to rein Trump in as the rest of the Russiagate saga plays out. It’d be catastrophic for the GOP, which is why nearly every Repbulican in Congress is anti-firing even though most of conservative media is in favor. Why would Steve Bannon want to trigger a crisis that would wreck the party?
Because wrecking the party has always been one of his core goals, maybe even more than electing a populist president was. With the GOP largely (or at least superficially) intact, it’s very difficult for his brand of nationalist candidates to get traction. He tried to jumpstart primary challenges to establishment Senate Republicans last year before his falling-out with Trump ruined the effort, but even when he was at the height of his influence most of his candidates remained longshots. Bannon is desperate to break the grip of more mainstream attitudes like centrism and conservatism over Beltway Republicans and start remaking the party in a populist way.
The easiest way to do that is to break the party itself. If he can help trigger a schism, in which the RINO “cucks” in Congress ride to Rosenstein’s defense while Trump pleads that he’s besieged on all sides and desperately needs his party’s help, Trumpers may never vote for an establishment candidate again. And Steve Bannon will be egging them on the whole way. It’s time for a populist party, he’ll say. The Republican Party won’t defend its own leaders under attack from “the deep state.” Again, apart from impeachment, nothing would make his audience receptive to that message like Congress turning on Trump for firing Rosenstein would. Even if firing Rosenstein or Mueller ended up wrecking Trump’s presidency, a big-picture guy like Bannon might be willing to accept that as the price for getting grassroots righties to turn their backs on the GOP — and to turn towards Bannon-style politics — once and for all.
Exit question: Think Trump will take Bannon’s advice?
I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (Unlike the Clintons!). I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my Special Counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
Update: You don’t say.
A source tells me that Trump called yesterday and asked source to go on TV to call for Trump to fire Mueller. https://t.co/BI9GU4vx9L
— Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany) April 12, 2018