- Carlos Barria/Reuters
- War broke out between President Donald Trump and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, after Bannon was quoted in excerpts of an upcoming book as making disparaging comments about his former boss.
- Trump’s allies are abandoning Bannon en masse.
- It could affect some 2018 primaries.
Wednesday was just the third day of 2018. But three days were all that was needed for the first major US political war of the new year to break out.
On one side is the former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was quoted in excerpts of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” set to be released Tuesday, as eviscerating President Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka Trump.
On the other side are Trump and his allies. Trump lambasted Bannon in one of his most scathing statements as president, suggesting Bannon had “lost his mind” and was “only in it for himself.”
“Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was,” Trump said. “It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”
It became clear very quickly in the hours after Trump’s scorched-earth statement who would come out on top: the president.
Almost immediately, Republican Senate candidates whom Bannon has endorsed in their primary races to unseat establishment hopefuls backed away from the mercurial media executive turned political strategist.
A representative for one of those candidates, Kelli Ward of Arizona, said that Bannon’s was just “one of many high-profile endorsements” Ward had received and that she was focusing on “helping President Trump advance an America First agenda.”
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Rep. Evan Jenkins, who’s running for a US Senate seat, called on his GOP primary opponent, Patrick Morrisey, to disavow Bannon’s endorsement.
For the most part, Morrisey obliged.
“Attorney General Morrisey does not support these attacks on President Trump and his family, and was proud to stand with President Trump in 2016 when they were both overwhelmingly elected in West Virginia and when he cast his vote for Trump in the Electoral College,” a representative for his campaign said.
‘Bannon has no contingent’
Meanwhile, Bannon’s more-establishment nemeses were thrilled with Trump’s scorching condemnation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who in September went toe to toe with Bannon in the Alabama Republican Senate primary that ended with the candidate Bannon backed, Roy Moore, winning the nomination – told Trump his statement was “perfect” and that he “wouldn’t change a word,” The Washington Post reported.
Trump’s allies were even more forceful in their condemnation of a man who was once the CEO of his presidential campaign and held one of the most prominent positions in the White House. Bannon left the White House in August and resumed his role as the executive chairman of Breitbart News.
“Bannon has no contingent,” the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told April Ryan, a White House correspondent. “There’s a Trump wing of the Republican Party. There’s not a Bannon wing.”
Anthony Scaramucci, the White House communications director who was fired over the summer after blasting Bannon in a conversation with a New Yorker reporter, took what amounted to a daylong victory lap. He made multiple TV appearances and fired off several tweets to proclaim that he was right.
“I said what I said in the Summer take out the expletives and pay closer attention,” Scaramucci tweeted, adding that Trump was “doing a great job.”
- John Moore/Getty Images
Trump Jr., who was at the center of Bannon’s most forceful criticism in the book’s excerpts, unloaded on him as well.
He said Bannon had “no ideology” other “than what’s good for Steve” and mocked him for backing Moore, who was defeated last month in the special election by the Democrat Doug Jones.
Trump, however, had also enthusiastically supported Moore, whom several women have accused of sexual misconduct, in the campaign’s final days.
“It would be amazing if there would have been a nice simple path to keeping this seat with a nice 30 point margin… #thankssteve,” Trump Jr. tweeted.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump and Bannon had become “increasingly estranged” in the weeks after what was an embarrassing loss for the Republican Party in the Alabama race.
Trump was enraged by Bannon’s interview with Vanity Fair in which he blasted Kushner, the Times report says, and it appears as if the release of excerpts from Wolff’s book this week was the final straw.
Trump’s lawyers have sent cease-and-desist letters to Bannon, Wolff, and his publisher. Some parts of the book have already been challenged, though Wolff says he has hours of tapes from his time in the White House – which, The Times reported, was frequently spent in Bannon’s office.
‘Clearly, the pathway is even more complicated after today’
The disintegration of Trump’s relationship with Bannon could lead to further changes in the political and policy landscape – particularly as the 2018 primaries near.
Bannon’s seeking to barnstorm the country campaigning for hard-right challengers this year could hit a snag in light of the recent feud that has caused some of his preferred candidates to distance themselves from him.
And the White House on Wednesday night moved to disband its controversial voter-fraud commission, laying blame on the former chief strategist and calling it a “blundered Bannon rollout” that “should’ve never been in place.”
Trump’s breaking up with Bannon was “not too surprising” to Alex Conant, who was Sen. Marco Rubio’s communications director during his 2016 presidential campaign.
“Bannon has long overstated his role in Trump’s election,” Conant told Business Insider. “Trump’s response will probably give Bannon even more media attention, at least in the short term. At the end of the day, it’s bad for both men.”
- Thomson Reuters
Conant added that candidates “who tied themselves to Bannon were already facing a very different pathway to victory.”
“Clearly, the pathway is even more complicated after today,” he said.
Rick Tyler, the communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, told Business Insider that the fallout between Trump and Bannon “was bound to happen” because there were “too many egos for one stage.”
But he was less bullish on the episode’s effect on the coming primaries because, he said, “neither has shown to be a deciding factor in winning races.”
Bannon, sensing where the winds were blowing, spoke glowingly of Trump on his Breitbart radio program on Wednesday. But it may be too late.
“The president of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know I support him day in and day out, whether going through the country giving the ‘Trump miracle’ speech, or on the show, or on the website. So you don’t have to worry about that.”
Trump took notice. He told members of the press in a White House meeting on Thursday that Bannon “called me a great man last night.”
“He obviously changed his tune pretty quick,” he added.