Trump is prone to taking out his frustrations on others – he is never to blame for his failures – and inevitably these landed on Bannon, who bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have. Bannon was ousted from the administration and left in August. Though he and Trump stayed in touch, in retrospect, an eventual falling out seems to have been inevitable.
Trump and Bannon were like two overweight men trying to share a single sleeping bag. Their political world wasn’t big enough for both. They disagreed bitterly over whom to back in the race to fill a Senate seat from Alabama; but, at Bannon’s urging, Trump ultimately backed the erratic former state Supreme Court judge Roy Moore, who’d been removed from the bench twice, and who lost the race. Bannon was seeking to shake up the Republican “establishment” by backing similar “outsider” candidates in this year’s midterm elections, which, if successful, could make it all the harder for Trump to obtain victories in Congress.
Despite his denials, it was Trump who more or less agreed to allow Wolff, whose reputation for slashing his subjects Trump presumably would have known from his years in New York City, to interview the White House staff for a book. Some aides say they believed they were talking to Wolff “off the record,” meaning that they wouldn’t be publicly associated with their remarks. But, even if that were true, it was hardly soothing to a furious president: they had said these things.
In Trump’s view, Bannon’s great sin with regard to Wolff’s book was to say highly negative things about the president’s family. Trump was particularly infuriated by Bannon’s description of a now-famous meeting that his son, Donald Jr., and other senior campaign staff held in Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was “treasonous.” But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Bannon might not have been so far off. (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 happened in that Trump Tower meeting.)
Trump was also reportedly furious that Bannon had described the president’s favorite child, Ivanka, as “dumb as a brick.” Wolff also reports that Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ivanka who would run for president.
Overstating matters, as is his wont, Trump claimed, in effect, that Bannon had had nothing to do with his election victory, and that the two had almost never talked one on one. And, as is his wont, Trump threatened to sue Bannon. Trump has a long track record of threatening lawsuits without ever filing them, but even the threat can be costly to the putative target.
Yet the momentary obsession with the feuding within the Trump camp shouldn’t obscure other realities. Behind the drama, Trump has certain clear goals, and cabinet and agency heads who share them – and who don’t get distracted by the publication of a juicy account of the president’s behavior.
While much of Washington and its press corps were discussing the latest revelations, the Department of Justice, 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, last week, it was disclosed that the DoJ was reopening an investigation into the already thoroughly investigated matter of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI, it was also disclosed, would be looking into the Clinton Foundation.
The use of a government agency to punish a president’s previous opponent recalls the behavior for which Richard Nixon was impeached, and suggests a very different form of government than a democratic one.
Copyright: Project Syndicate 2018 – Breaking Bannon