I knew he’d be pissed after this morning’s excerpt from the Wolff book leaked but no one expected this.
Trump vs. Breitbart. The missiles are flying.
Trump totally torches Bannon: “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Full statement: pic.twitter.com/ElhChPiOx8
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) January 3, 2018
Can’t blame him or the White House for being shocked. I’m shocked too. What is Bannon thinking, legitimizing the Russiagate investigation when everyone else in populist media has spent a year insisting it’s a witch hunt based on lies and innuendo?
At the very least you’d expect him to blame people like Carter Page and George Papadopoulos for driving the suspicion, not the Trump family. He might have gotten away with slamming Jared since their feud is public knowledge but going after Don Jr is an attack on POTUS himself. He’s practically forcing Breitbart fans to choose between him and Trump now, particularly by using a term as loaded as “treasonous.” And Breitbart’s not challenging the veracity of the Bannon quotes, mind you. So far their coverage is a straightforward regurgitation of the Guardian story about what Bannon allegedly said to author Michael Wolff.
Kushner ally Matt Drudge was one of the first major players to knife Bannon today after the key bits of the Wolff book leaked:
No wonder schizophrenic Steve Bannon has been walking around with a small army of bodyguards…
— MATT DRUDGE (@DRUDGE) January 3, 2018
A thought experiment on Bannon’s “treason” quote via Philip Wegmann of the Examiner:
Show that quote to most Trump supporters and they’d shout fake news. Hide Bannon’s name for a moment and those same Trump supporters might even call him a cuck. The different reactions are infinite, but the common denominator would inevitably be to dismiss the argument without evaluating the facts of the claim and then to immediately make an ad-hominem attack about the argument’s author.
As John McCormack at The Weekly Standard concluded, “partisanship has made the average Republican more pro-Trump than Steve Bannon.” What’s more, he has no one else to blame but himself. He fed this crocodile, really nurtured it long before Trump even entered politics.
Yeah, all I can do by way of a theory on why Bannon thought he could get away with this is that he’s convinced himself the crocodile is more loyal to him than to Trump. He hit the trail for Roy Moore in Alabama while Trump backed McConnell’s guy, Luther Strange, right? He’s the one who’s out there recruiting populist primary challengers to GOP incumbents while Trump is busy whispering to Orrin Hatch that he hopes he’ll run again. He’s the one pounding the table for a trade war and a giant infrastructure bill and a tax hike on the rich in the name of pushing wealth down to the working class while Trump’s content to sign anything Ryan and McConnell send him. Between him and the president, Bannon’s by far the more committed populist on the merits. He may have gotten high on his own rhetorical supply as a result, persuading himself that after all he’d done to expand Breitbart’s reach and to get Trump elected and to promote alt-right favorites like Milo, populists would at least stay neutral during any clash between him and the Trumps. We’ll see. I’m skeptical.
It could be too that an operator like Bannon understands that attention spans are short and that the outrage over his Russiagate comments will only last a day or two before everyone moves on. There’ll be an angry comment thread at Breitbart, then Bannon will endorse Chris McDaniel in Mississippi or whatever and all will be forgiven. The flaw in that thesis, though, is that it still doesn’t explain why he made the “treason” comment in the first place. It may not fatally damage him among Trumpists but it’ll always be held against him. The next time he crosses Trump on something, he’ll be reminded of this as a reason to find his loyalty generally suspicious. He could have, and has, gotten away with contradicting Trump on various policy matters, but to side with anti-Trumpers in believing that serious wrongdoing occurred when Team Trump felt out the Russians for Hillary oppo is of a different magnitude. In a tribal age, that’s treasonous. He’s striking at the heart of the conviction that Trump’s establishment/media/”deep state” enemies have concocted the Russiagate narrative to hobble him for purely political reasons. “Bannon becomes the first major Trump insider to say what is at this point clear to anyone willing to look at the facts: Whether or not there were any crimes committed, Trump aides colluded with Russia,” writes David Graham. I don’t know how he’ll fully recover.
Oh, and in case you think he spared Trump himself in his comments to Wolff, apparently not:
NEW: Here's the Bannon quote regarding the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting: "The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office of the 26th floor is zero,” per "Fire & Fury." (pg. 255)
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) January 3, 2018
The first presidential tweet ripping into Bannon is going to be *kisses fingers.* The irony is that Bannon himself has been telling friendly reporters lately that the month of January is make-or-break for the MAGA presidency given the sheer number of big-ticket policy items on the GOP’s plate. I don’t know when he expected the first juicy bits from the Wolff book to leak but this is the worst possible moment for it to happen. Trump will (or should) want populists unified and focused on legislation; instead a Russiagate grenade built by Bannon has just been rolled into the tent. Baffling.
Oh well. Congratulations on being elected president of Salon Conservatives Club, Steve!
Update: Mitch McConnell’s campaign team couldn’t be enjoying this more.
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) January 3, 2018
Update: Oh boy.
Wow, Just looked at the comments section on Breitbart. Wow. When Bannon has lost Breitbart, he’s left with . . . umm, nothing.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 3, 2018