The Ballad of Don and Steve
A new book, chock full of incendiary quotes from Steve Bannon, has raised the president’s ire. Where do you even start with a story like this?
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
“I’m not aware that they were ever particularly close,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deadpanned during her January 4 briefing. She was referring to the President, and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Less than three months ago, Trump made it a point to say, “I have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve’s been a friend of mine for a long time. I like Steve a lot.”
Take a deep breath. If you try to make sense of all of this, you’ll pass out. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have been the not-so-shadowy figures batting around the soul of the Right since they emerged on the campaign trail.
Now, Bannon finds himself in the eye of the storm once again, quoted as saying Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner were “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for accepting a meeting with a Russian lawyer in 2016. The elder Trump, the one who came within just three million ballots of winning the popular vote back in that same year, released a classically Trumpian response shortly after the quotes leaked.
Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.
All of these quotes are utterly mindblowing. Under no other circumstance could you fathom a President speaking or even thinking like this. At the same time, it’s startlingly predictable. It’s Trump, talking about the bigot that he allowed to run his campaign. There’s a fight in the driver’s seat of the clown car.
Any attempts Trump makes to divorce himself from Bannon — or more importantly, the ideology of Bannon that animates the far right — need to be tempered, if not outright dismissed. Less than a year ago, Time Magazine posited that Bannon was the “second most powerful man in the world.”
This public hair-pulling is made all the more peculiar simply because of who Bannon is. Anyone — absolutely anyone — who leaves the orbit of this Administration and is then brave enough to expound upon the unrest and infighting in the West Wing becomes something of a folk hero. The internet has a way of lionizing anyone perceived to be a truth teller.
So what happens, exactly, when the one throwing rocks at Donald Trump is the man Saturday Night Live would only portray as death itself?
Enter: author of the book, Michael Wolff.
Wolff‘s involvement under this big top circus adds layers of complication to this already crowded playbill. He has a sordid past, often dealing in tabloid fodder, and the book itself is riddled with somewhat unforgivable errors, like getting the names and positions of cabinet members wrong.
In an interview with the Today Show last week, he admitted that he, “certainly said what was ever necessary to get the story.” Here’s a recent excerpt from the Washington Post about Wolff’s oscillating stance on the media’s treatment of Trump:
On the morning after Trump’s election, Wolff wrote in the Hollywood Reporter that “the media turned itself into the opposition and, accordingly, was voted down as the new political reality emerged.” He scolded New Yorker editor David Remnick for calling Trump’s win an “American tragedy” and wrote that “awe might have been in order.”
A short time later, Wolff addressed fellow reporters in an interview with Digiday. “Let me send the message: stenographer is what you’re supposed to be,” he said.
Wolff’s motives notwithstanding, there’s another problem worth examining here — and it is the same problem that has always plagued this administration: agreeing on the truth.
Trump claimed he never spoke to him for the book — while also saying he “turned him down many times.” Huckabee Sanders contradicted the President directly in Wednesday’s press briefing, saying that he did indeed speak with Wolff, albeit briefly.
Wolff has confirmed that he spoke with Trump for three hours in total, across a number of interactions. “I absolutely spoke to the President,” Wolff told the Today Show, “whether he knows it was an interview or not, I don’t know. But it certainly was not off the record.”
“Fake News” has an entirely new meaning. There’s a stark difference between calling journalistic practice into question, and simply ignoring the reality swirling around your face.
Anyone under the Republican umbrella is staring down the barrel of generations of party instability. Perhaps somewhere, in the recesses of their minds, they knew the deal they were making with the greatest dealmaker. Evangelicals did not care about Trump’s record with women, because there was the promise of federal judges who would put an end to same-sex marriage. The McConnell/Ryan wing of the party would push their tax bill. The Jeff Sessions’ of the world saw an opening to fight the war on weed that no one was clamoring for. Trump was emboldened by Bannon, and Bannon was enabled by Trump. Together they formed the vehicle that would carry the fragmented wishlist of many Republicans all the way to the White House.
We’re sleeping in the bed we made, America. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are fighting for the heart of the right. The only problem is, they’ve been on the same team all along.