Bannon wasn’t just one of Trump’s most senior aides and an architect of the destruction of the Republican Party; he was the multi-shirted, red-eyed White House troll, leaking tales of his brilliance to a constellation of reporters in the ostensibly hated mainstream media. His house organ Breitbart and a host of Trump-right websites and news outlets sang praises to his dank genius. Bannon, they proclaimed, was Trumpism in its distilled essence: revanchist, ahistorical, racially inflected, and consumed with an imaginary war on the media and America’s broader society.
Now, like two rats in a bag, Trump and Bannon are tearing at one another in a delicious public spat that has every possible bit of drama, except Bannon drunkenly bellowing for a round of fisticuffs with all comers and Trump offering to compare the length of their relative manhoods on live television. They deserve one another in so many ways.
Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury (President Postliterate Bestwords is waiting on either the audio book or for Kellyanne to organize tableaux vivants of the various chapters) is blowing Washington apart today, and the biggest rift is between Trumpism and Bannonism. I’ve written before about the inevitable, tragic dynamic of this brokeback bromance; Trump needs a mindless cheering section screaming hosannas no matter how often he stumbles toward the nuclear and political precipice. Bannon needs an avatar for his Alt-Reich national socialist—oh, sorry, I meant populist—fantasies.
The bold new counter-establishment Bannon sought to create in the wake of Trump’s fluke victory was like most of Bannon’s hustles: contingent on a kind of balls-out bravado and a willingness to lie and scrap with equal intensity. It was easy to be a political arsonist when Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah were writing the checks, but the Mercer money train came to a halt when the Metternich of Alabama, after getting beaten like a cheap drum in the U.S. Senate race, was then quoted boasting to Wolff that the Mercers would be funding his 2020 presidential campaign.
Late Thursday, rumors swept the media world that Bannon was about to be booted from his role as Caudillo of the Breitbart empire. For Bannon, this would be a fate worse the death. His power derives almost entirely from a website that bears the name of a better man, and rebuilding a new version from scratch would be a costly and difficult process.
Republican senators are breathing a deep sigh of relief. After watching Bannon hitch the GOP’s wagon to a pedo-curious Roy Moore in Alabama, the idea of Bannon mounting a slate of National Socialist—dammit, there I go again, populist—candidates seems more distant, particularly without Sugar Momma Mercer keeping that sweet bank rolling in and the lights on at advertiser-poison “news” outlet Breitbart.
One thing I can’t stop smiling about is that for all the junk-waving swagger of Bannon, Mitch McConnell has forgotten more about winning elections than Bannon will ever know. Take away Robert and Rebekah’s money—and here it goes, the Mercers said Thursday—and Steve Bannon isn’t fit to wash Karl Rove’s car. He’s no Lee Atwater. Has anyone checked on Paul Nehlen?
Bannon fronts like Karl von Clausewitz but delivers like George Costanza. Bannon is a terrible, horrible, no-good political strategist; he seeks out the dumbest common-denominator garbage candidates he can find and tries to elevate them using breathless Breitbart pieces praising them as the True Voice of The Conservative Revolution… until, of course, they lose or he abandons them.
As Trump’s lack of nationalist wins becomes painfully evident, it’s harder to feed the rube machine with Fake News from the Dear Leader. They’re frustrated that there is still no Wall, still no mass deportations, and still no trade war with the perfidious Chinese. Where will Bannon find and fund the next cadre of Roy Moores?
One of the most cringeworthy aspects of the Trump era is the mental and moral gymnastics required of conservatives to Trump-splain every new feud, screw-up, and absurdity. By Thursday afternoon, many were slamming Bannon as an apostate to the Trump faith. Matt Drudge, the wellspring of the right’s media ecosystem, has gone into full-throttle hate mode, running headline after headline slamming Bannon. Rush Limbaugh and his lesser imitators joined in the Bannon-bashing and even professional lunatic Alex Jones had the knives out for his former ally.
Some in the Trump-right were pretending that this titanic rupture in Trumpworld was a devious plan to distract from his masterful handling of Iran and North Korea. Let me disabuse the Trump readers in our audience (a small subset, I know) of this fantasy. No, this isn’t the president playing some form of quantum chess with rules so complex and subtle that it would take a team of physicists and string theorists decades to understand. Trump is a furious, shallow, weak man reacting in a spasm of self-indulgent fury to excerpts from a book repeating the taped, verbatim views of some of his most senior aides.
Their views were consonant with what White House reporters know to be true: shock, contempt, and dismay at Trump’s mental and moral vacuum, and that they’ve pledged themselves to a man so spectacularly incapable of executing his duties as commander in chief they can hardly believe the unique mixture of horror and absurdity they feel toward their boss. This is a White House populated now by the weakest survivors of the “As hire As and Bs hire Cs and Trump hires Omarosa” management philosophy—none of whom have the stature or judgment to control the worst excesses of his behavior.
Trump’s ugly breakup with soon to be Psycho Ex Steve “I Won’t Be Ignored, Don” Bannon came because the Wolff book is too intimate and accurate, not because it’s fake news created by an angry ex-aide. Bannon’s animus toward Don Jr., Ivanka, and Jared has been made abundantly clear to dozens of other reporters and was no secret. Hell, the president knows the apple of stupidity didn’t fall far from the Trump tree with Don Jr., and he’s obviously not a huge fan of Jared.
It was Bannon’s quote that the meeting with the Russians was treasonous; that was the end for Donald. It was the admission that the No. 1 political streetfighter in the Trump White House knew the truth about the Trump team’s Russia connections. Bannon was willing to say it to a reporter. On tape. In Trump’s mind, that is the sin of sins.
The American political immune system had a rough year in 2017. In 2018, it looks like it’s stirring to life. I doubt we’re rid of Bannon quite yet. Like a form of drug-resistant political syphilis, Bannon will continue to command a degree of attention and will corrode the world around him, though Republicans can avoid reinfection with a few simple precautions. Practice safe politics, kids.
Watching Bannon fall victim to the claws of the monster he helped create mostly invokes the response of “Alexa, order all the popcorn.” His absurd supervillain persona and Rube Goldberg schemes to redefine American politics were married up to his shit-tier actual political skills. This disaster was always inevitable.
In 2015, Bannon promised to destroy my career because I dared stand up to Trump. He put his minions to work doing just that, even dragging my kids into the fight. Bannon even sent an email to a friend of mine saying, “This is going to be fun.”
Sorry, Steve. I’m still here and still kicking.
You were right about one thing… this is fun. For me, at least.