In Steve Bannon’s now-famous call to Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect the day before he was fired, Bannon described the white supremacists who had marched in Charlottesville as “losers” and “a collection of clowns.” Of course, those are the same sorts of people Bannon mobilized to vote for Trump, the most loyal part of his base. I asked Joshua Green about that—he wrote the definitive book on Bannon, Devil’s Bargain. We spoke the evening before Bannon was fired as chief strategist at the Trump White House.
“He said similar things to me,” Green said; “he called them ‘freaks’ and ‘goofballs.’” Bannon, he said, “views these kinds of alt-right Internet trolls as useful idiots whom he can manipulate to do his bidding. He sees them as a small but powerful and energetic cohort that will help him tear down the Republican political establishment and open up room for Donald Trump. He sees them also as a group of people who won’t hesitate to attack the mainstream media, which is another obsession of Steve Bannon’s.”
The big questions about Bannon, of course, are how Trump views him, and how he views Trump. Green emphasized that Trump’s biggest problem with Bannon always was the way Bannon got credit for Trump’s victory. For a long time, he said, Trump has been “furious at the idea put forward in the press, and frankly that’s also the thesis of my book—the idea that…without Bannon’s guidance, Trump probably wouldn’t be president.” Green pointed to a Saturday Night Live sketch that “portrayed Bannon as the real president, making Donald Trump sit at the little boy’s desk—Trump hates that sort of thing.”
And how does Bannon view Trump? Has he been using Trump to achieve the dystopian vision he’s had for more than decade, or is he a true believer in Trump as his leader? “I don’t think that Bannon distinguishes between the two things,” Green told me. “In fact, Trump might really be the only vehicle for his political ideas, because you would never have a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio or any kind of mainstream Republican candidate go anywhere near Steve Bannon, who had a toxic reputation before he was involved with Trump”—because of his editing Breitbart News. Also, he said, “Bannon’s political ideas really cut against a lot of what the mainstream Republican Party professes to believe in: tax cuts for high=end earners, an aggressive foreign policy that tries to impose democracy by force.” Thus, Green concluded, “I don’t think he really has a candidate or a home in the party, other than Donald Trump.”
The day after I spoke with Green, and after Bannon was fired, Bannon himself told Green, “If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents—on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”