Trump trusted Bannon the most, and that could now cost him very dearly

It's the biggest political bust-up of the presidency so far

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 03 January 2018 22:02
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There are few things more painful than when hot love turns cold.

For a long time, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were hard to separate. The former naval officer was one of just a few who genuinely believed the reality television star could win the White House.

When he did so, Trump rewarded Bannon with an office in the West Wing and a top job. Trump’s daughter and son-in-law thought Bannon was vulgar and uncouth and the President smarted when his special advisor got better press coverage, but in the abrasive, aggressive Bannon, with his motto of “always attack”, Trump had found someone he could relate to. Someone whom he could trust.

Even when Bannon was forced from the White House, a victim of competing factions and the arrival of former general John Kelly as the Chief of Staff, Trump continued to dial Bannon’s cell phone and seek his counsel.

That bromance now seems over. After excerpts of a forthcoming book were leaked in which Bannon was quoted as criticising Trump’s eldest son and son-in-law, and saying a meeting they held with a Russian lawyer was “treasonous”, the President hit back in a way Bannon may quietly have approved of.

“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,” Trump said in a statement, that would have been staggering had it come from someone else.

“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.”

He added: “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. It is the only thing he does well.”

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Trump was stung after excerpts were published, first by the Guardian, from journalist Michael Wolff’s forthcoming book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. In it, Bannon is quoted as saying the meeting Trump Jr held with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was “treasonous and unpatriotic”.

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” the former strategist is quoted as saying.

When Bannon left the White House, he speculated that he was just as powerful outside, back at the controls of Breitbart News, as he was in the West Wing.

“I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he told one interviewer. “I built a f***ing machine at Breitbart. And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.”

The danger for Trump attacking Bannon in such stark, personal terms is what his former confidante does next. Bannon and Breitbart are backed by the Mercer family, Republican mega-donors whose wealth was established by tech entrepreneur Robert Mercer.

The Mercers were also financial supporters of former judge Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race, one of a series of insurgent candidates Bannon intends to put his support behind between now and the midterm elections of November.

Many of Trump’s supporters obtain their news through sources such as Bretibart. While admirers of Bannon have to date largely been hard to separate from supporters of Trump, if the 64-year-old decides to use his news site to attack the President, will it impact his base? Trump’s White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, claimed it would not.

“I don’t think it does anything to the President’s base. The base and the people that supported this President supported the President and supported his agenda,” she told reporters. “Those things haven’t changed. The President is still exactly who he was yesterday as he was two years ago when he started out on the campaign trail.”

Breitbart News’ reporting of the spat on Wednesday was pretty straightforward. But if he wanted to twist the knife, Bannon has a powerful weapon in his hands.

Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has so far charged four former Trump associates as he continues to probe Russia’s alleged meddling in the election. While Trump may try to airbrush Bannon from history, Bannon was a central figure during the transition and in setting the tone during the first six months of this strangest of presidencies. He helped draft his “America First” inauguration speech.

It is unclear what other damaging allegations he may be in a position to make. Bannon has so far spoken out only against Trump’s son, son-in-law and daughter. He has been careful to avoid criticising Trump himself.

After today, that may change.

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