While Donald Trump maintains the last vestiges of a relationship with self-described “revolutionary” Steve Bannon, there is little more than “mutual contempt” between them as the former White House advisor positions himself for his own run for the White House as soon as 2020 if, as the Breitbart editor expects, Trump has had enough or isn’t around by then.
That is the impression given in a lengthy new profile of Bannon in Vanity Fair magazine, reproduced on their Hive website, written by Gabriel Sherman, the journalist who took on Fox News Roger Ailes and whose reporting has been a constant thorn in the side of Trump and his administration.
“Four months ago,” writes Sherman, “Bannon was a supporting player, with a whiteboard and a telephone. Now he’s made himself the star – not only the chief strategist but in many ways the candidate, the frontman of his own movement.”
Bannon privately has told friends that the presidency has taken a toll on Trump, “telling advisers his former boss has ‘lost a step.'”
“He’s like an 11-year-old child,” Sherman reports Bannon joked to a friend in November.
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Bannon told another adviser in October that “he would consider running for president if Trump doesn’t run for re-election in 2020. Which Bannon has told people is a realistic possibility.”
“In private conversations since leaving the White House,” continues Sherman, “Bannon said Trump only has a 30 percent chance of serving out his term, whether he’s impeached or removed by the Cabinet invoking the 25th amendment.”
Since he left his position as Trump’s Chief Strategist on August 18 and returned to run the ultra-conservative Breitbart news website, Bannon has acted a lot like a candidate. He has flown all over the country, and around the world, making speeches where he preaches his form of disruptive populism.
Stephen Bannon to Vanity Fair during Roy Moore scandal: "This is Alabama. The age of consent is 16 for a reason." https://t.co/UMiWs2hhGq
— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) December 21, 2017
Bannon has also taken over the Breitbart radio talk show on Sirius XM satellite radio, which gives him a powerful way to reach his conservative audience, and recently wrote a book, “Bannon: Always the Rebel.”
“Inside the right-wing echo chamber,” writes Sherman, “Bannon is lionized as a conquering folk hero. Well-wishers flock to snap selfies, press the flesh At one event I chatted with an elderly man waiting his turn on the receiving line. “If I could ask him one question, it would be, why aren’t you president?”
Oddly, Brannon rarely talks about taking on the Democrats, even the liberals he disdains. Instead, he lumps them together as the “elites” along with many establishment Republicans.”
Bannon’s number one enemy appears to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
“The G.O.P. establishment, as personified by Mitch McConnell,” Bannon told Sherman, ” has not done a good job supporting the president’s agenda.”
“During a recent speech,” adds Sherman, “he declared a “season of war’ on the G.O.P.”
Bannon has lined up his own slate of candidates for seven of the eight Senate seats coming for election next November who he calls “The League of Extraordinary Candidates.”
“Bannon’s war is just ramping up,” reports Sherman. “Through his nonprofit, Government Accountability Institute, he’s planning to release a Clinton-Cash style book that takes aim at the G.O.P. establishment in general and McConnell in particular.”
Released in 2015, “Clinton Cash” became a New York Times best-seller by attacking Hillary Clinton just as her campaign was firing up. It claimed to be an investigation of how Bill and Hillary Clinton have made themselves rich since he left the White House doing highly paid speeches, and linked favors the Clinton’s did for wealthy foreigners to big donations made to the Clinton Foundation.
While the book was later largely discredited, it forced Secretary Clinton into a defensive position early in her campaign and provided the ammunition which Republicans were to use against her all the way to her defeat in November 2016.
That kind of mix of real and fake news, investigation and wild guesses, written with little or no morality or effort to stick to the facts, could damage any politician in this era of intense media scrutiny – even McConnell.
Bannon butted heads directly with McConnell over the candidacy of Roy Moore for Senate in Alabama. After revelations about Moore’s pedophile past came out, McConnell moved to distance himself from the candidate and urged other Republicans and the president to do the same.
Instead, with Bannon pushing Trump hard, the president eventually did endorse Moore, despite his own political advisers warning him against it, and of course he lost – which did nothing to endear Bannon further to Trump.
When Bannon was forced out of the White House, it marked the loss of a long-running feud with staffers led by Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and others. The enmity has only grown since then, so the chances of Trump warming to Bannon again are slim at best.
Bannon blamed Kushner for the decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey, which led to the creation of a Special Counsel to lo look into the Trump-Russia connection during and after the 2016 campaign.
At Trump’s urging, relates Sherman, a meeting was called to try and bring the two sids together.
“We have a communications problem,” Kushner said at that meeting.
“No we don’t,” Bannon shot back. “We have a decision-making problem. we made a lot of bad decisions, and the bad decisions have to do with you.“
“It got uglier from here,” Bannon later recalled for Sherman.
Oddly, Bannon is not as focused on winning elections as he is on fomenting a revolution that will bring together a new political coalition.
Shortly after Moore lost, Bannon met Sherman for breakfast and was “in high spirits.”
“Dude,” Bannon told Sherman, “you don’t know the firestorm that’s coming. The civil war will go to an even higher, more intesne level.”
Bannon said that McConnell “in his machinations against Moore, revealed that G.O.P. elites are aligned with Democrats against the deplorables.”
“The G.O.P. establishment,” said Bannon, “would rather have control and give up seats to the radical progressive left.”
It was Bannon who counseled Trump after the Charlottesville protest turned violent to take a tough line and be as supportive of White Supremacists as the other side. Bannon says that solidified Trump’s base, and since then Trump has governed “exclusively for Bannon’s base,”writes Sherman.
“I think the (Republican) establishment has to understand something,” declares Bannon. “Their day of running the Republican party is over.”
Or after Moore and the loss of a Bannon-backed candidate in Virginia, Sherman wonders if it is Bannon whose day is over.
Either way, this clearly illustrates a major rift in the Republican party which will plague them as they campaign in the November 2018 midterm elections, with one side trying to protect the establishment and the other side looking to foment a revolution – while Democrats for once can unite against a common enemy – Trump.
“I’m not a political operative,” Bannon has said. “I’m a revolutionary.”
That might outsider approach might have worked for Trump who pained Secretary Clinton as the consummate insider, but after a year of experiencing the awfulness, the lying, the deception, the broken promises and the double-dealing of this administration, there is reason to hope that most people will have figured out who really has their back.
And that doesn’t mean, who is going to stick a knife in their back.