Bannon and Trump: Still the Odd Couple

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Then-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House in January 2017.

When you think about it, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump have a lot in common. Both are reckless, impulsive, bombastic, narcissistic, demagogic. Both are among the world’s great bullshitters. But one of them is president of the United States and the other isn’t.

Thus, it was only a matter of time before Bannon would make himself persona non grata with Trump. Surprisingly, Bannon’s contemptuous comments to me, back in August, were enough to help get him fired from the White House, but not sufficient to cause a rupture with Trump. The two continued to speak regularly, Bannon later told me (unless that was also so much BS).

Bannon’s latest comments crossed a line. They were, in Michael Kinsley’s famous definition of a gaffe, a blunder not because they were false but because they were true. They really didn’t tell us, and the rest of the Trump entourage, anything that we didn’t already know, but they were candid to the point of cruel and they came from an inside source.

Thus, Bannon had to be crushed by Trump loyalists. Bannon took several days to calculate his next move, and when it came it was surprisingly un-Bannon-like. Bannon apologized—suggesting that Bannon all along had a constituency of exactly one: Donald Trump. Without Trump, Bannon is just another far-right blowhard.

Bannon said in his Sunday mea culpa statement that his comments about treason had been directed at Paul Manafort, not at Trump Jr.: “Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.” He did not bother to retract the comment that Ivanka was dumb as a brick.

Bannon added:

My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda—as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama. President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism, and I remain ready to stand in the breech for this president’s efforts to make America great again.

As any reporter who has spoken with Bannon knows, this is total malarkey. Bannon is wildly incautions in his disparaging remarks about one and all, including his president. (A great BS artist believes his own fabrications, and then is thrown for a loop when he gets caught.)

In the wake of the Bannon-Trump rupture, Bannon has lost not only his access to the White House, but he could well lose his job at Breitbart.com. Rebekah Mercer, a big backer of Trump, the Republican right, and of Breitbart, put out a rare statement distancing herself from Bannon, and there have been rumors in the right-wing media that Bannon could well be fired.

The ordinarily loudmouth Breitbart site has been uncharacteristically muted on the latest Bannon affair, except for posting his letter of apology. Bannon, once the king of swagger, needs Breitbart more than Breitbart needs Bannon.

So, where does this leave Steve Bannon and Bannonism? Looking back at the past few years, the ideology that Bannon was selling was a more explicitly racist version of Trumpism; and despite Trump’s denials, Bannon helped tutor Trump. Bannon wanted to marry white nationalism to economic nationalism, even to populist economics, but Trump and the economic royalists who dominate his administration were not buying it.

Bannon’s uncharacteristically groveling apology will not be enough to mend fences with Trump. And when it becomes clear that there is no place for Bannon in TrumpWorld, no matter how much Bannon professes his loyalty, Bannon basically has two choices. He can either keep insisting that he is the true keeper of the Trump flame (which is hard when Trump himself doesn’t want any part of him) or he can start pointing out what a phony Trump is, as a purported friend of working people. That would be an actual contribution to national politics. Either way, Bannon’s 15 minutes of fame are mercifully over—and there is one more crack in the Trump coalition.

An earlier version of this article appeared at The Huffington Post. Subscribe here.

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