Trump and Bannon: once friends, now foes, thanks to bombshell book

This article is more than 12 months old

New book details inevitable falling-out between President Trump and ex-chief strategist Steve Bannon

The just-released book about Mr Donald Trump and his dysfunctional American presidency - Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House - has left much of Washington reeling.

It is not yet clear how Michael Wolff, the book's controversial author, obtained some of his information, but it must be assumed that he taped many of his interviews, particularly those used for the long conversations found throughout the book.

A good portion of what was released before the book's publication concerns a battle between two of the most talkative, argumentative and self-regarding braggarts United States politics has ever seen: Mr Trump and his one-time chief strategist, Mr Stephen Bannon.

In the summer of 2016, with his campaign lacking a leader, Mr Trump made Mr Bannon - a scruffy, scrappy former businessman who was then the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website preaching white nationalism - the campaign's chief executive.

Mr Bannon was full of big ideas about what a right-wing "populist" campaign would look like.

In many ways, Mr Bannon's ideal campaign resembled what Mr Trump was already saying and doing: appealing to blue-collar workers by attacking immigration and trade agreements that Mr Trump alleged were unfair to the US.

These voters came to form the core of Mr Trump's base, and his success in wooing them - combined with Mrs Hillary Clinton's stunning failure to do so - goes a long way towards explaining why he is president and she is not.

The problem for Mr Trump is that the citizens he was wooing have never added up to a near-majority of voters. His famous "base" is well under 40 per cent of the public. But Mr Trump and Mr Bannon apparently preferred not to think about that.

Mr Trump is prone to taking out his frustrations on others - he is never to blame for his failures. Inevitably, these landed on Mr Bannon, who bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have.

Mr Bannon was ousted from the administration and left in August. Though he and Mr Trump stayed in touch, in retrospect, an eventual falling-out seems to have been inevitable.

Mr Trump and Mr Bannon were like two overweight men trying to share a single sleeping bag. Their political world was not big enough for both.

They disagreed bitterly over whom to back in the Alabama Senate race but, at Mr Bannon's urging, Mr Trump ultimately backed the erratic former state Supreme Court judge Roy Moore, who had been removed from the bench twice and who lost the race.

Despite his denials, it was Mr Trump who more or less agreed to allow Wolff - whose reputation for slashing his subjects Mr Trump presumably would have known from his years in New York City - to interview the White House staff for a book.

Some aides said they believed they were talking to Wolff "off the record", meaning that they would not be publicly associated with their remarks.

But, even if that were true, it was hardly soothing to the furious President - they had said these things.

In Mr Trump's view, Mr Bannon's great sin with regard to Wolff's book was to say highly negative things about the President's family.

Mr Trump was particularly infuriated by Mr Bannon's description of a now-famous meeting that his son Donald Jr and other senior campaign staff held in the Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had "dirt" on Mrs Clinton.

Mr Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was "treasonous".


But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Mr Bannon might not have been so far off. Mr Trump himself participated in a meeting aboard Air Force One, as he returned from his second presidential trip abroad, to draft a statement to cover up what had happened in that meeting.

Mr Trump was also reportedly furious that Mr Bannon had described the President's favourite child, Ivanka, as "dumb as a brick".

Wolff also reports that Ms Trump and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ms Trump who would run for president.

Overstating matters, as is his wont, Mr Trump claimed, in effect, that Mr Bannon had nothing to do with his election victory and that the two had almost never talked one on one.

And Mr Trump threatened to sue Mr Bannon. Mr Trump has a record of threatening lawsuits without ever filing them, but even the threat can be costly to the putative target.

While much of Washington and its press corps were discussing the latest revelations, the Department of Justice (DOJ) - which is supposed to be somewhat independent of the White House - was being turned into a partisan instrument for pursuing the President's grudges.

Indeed, it has just been disclosed that the DOJ was reopening an investigation into the already thoroughly investigated matter of Mrs Clinton's e-mails.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, it was also disclosed, will be looking into the Clinton Foundation.

The use of a government agency to punish a president's previous opponent recalls the behaviour for which former president Richard Nixon was impeached and suggests a very different form of government than a democratic one.

The writer is a contributing editor to the New Republic. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.