This sounds vaguely like something Michael Corleone would say about Fredo the day before taking him fishing. “Good guy, Fredo. But he was never supposed to have a role in the business. Frankly, we’ve never been very close.”
Maybe I need to revisit that prediction that Bannon will survive the expected “100 days” purge.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
He ended by saying, “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
The most ominous part there is Trump claiming that he “didn’t know Steve” before Bannon joined the campaign. Charitably, he meant that he didn’t know him well, but he certainly knew him. Bannon reportedly was chatting with Trump about a presidential run as early as 2011. According to David Bossie, “As Breitbart grew, Mr. Trump was constantly in touch with Steve about news articles and doing interviews with his reporters,” and Trump ended up being Bannon’s first interview when Bannon’s radio show relaunched as a Breitbart operation in 2014. In 2015, Bannon told a friend that he was already Trump’s “campaign manager,” which may have been a joke about how much favorable coverage Trump was getting from Breitbart or may have been a more serious comment about some behind-the-scenes advisory role Bannon had in Trump’s political operation. (Bannon told his friend to keep the “campaign manager” comment confidential.) Weirdest of all, though, Trump has already admitted to having known Bannon for years — in, of all things, his press release last summer announcing that Bannon was formally joining the campaign. Now, suddenly, he’s a stranger? Bad omen.
Axios reports that Bannon allies inside and outside the White House are “distraught” by Trump’s comments, fearing they’re a sign that Bannon’s days are numbered and Trump is already pre-spinning the firing. A factor, allegedly, is Trump’s annoyance at Bannon being described in media profiles as a “shadow president” or the brains behind Trump’s nationalist philosophy, something that was bound to affront Trump’s gigantic, fragile ego. In fact, I remember reporters chirping on Twitter when that issue of Time magazine with Bannon on the cover came out in February that it was the beginning of the end for him, whether he knew it or not. Trump wouldn’t tolerate the perception that Bannon was the one who was really calling the shots in the executive branch. And now, per Axios, sure enough:
What got Bannon in trouble: Axios AM is told that President Trump didn’t like the stories about Bannon as the Svengali, or leaks against Jared and Ivanka, or planted stories that he blamed Bannon for. It was less than 10 weeks ago that Bannon appeared on the cover of TIME as “THE GREAT MANIPULATOR,” with the inside story asking if he was “the Second Most Powerful Man in the World.”
Bannon’s mistake: He did little to build alliances and a personal retinue within the White House, while his rivals did the opposite. So he wound up isolated in “West Wing Survivor.’
One White House aide told David Ignatius that people inside the White House “are tired of games” being played by Bannon, “someone who came on board 72 days before the election.” It always seemed possible, or even probable, that Trump would gradually morph in office from a nationalist firebrand to a more conventional Republican as he came under the influence of “the swamp” and bumped up against the operational limits of domestic and international politics, but who had “airstrikes on Syria and Bannon gone before summer” in the pool? If Bannon departs, the closest thing left to a nationalist influence on Trump inside the White House will be Stephen Miller, a junior advisor who might well follow Bannon out the door. Michael Anton will still be there too, but Anton is a national security advisor and McMaster seems to have asserted control pretty firmly over that complex. A Bannon-less Trump will be interesting, and even less predictable than he is now. Does he become a Bush-style Republican? A Kushner-influenced centrist? Remain a nationalist because, after all, he’s been skeptical of trade for decades?