Just when you think nothing Donald Trump does can surprise you, this happens.
The “this” to which I am referring is a statement from Trump himself (!) released Wednesday afternoon in which he absolutely crushes his longtime political adviser Steve Bannon. And I mean CRUSHES. Into. Very. Small. Bits.
It’s among the most remarkable statements I’ve ever read from any politician in any office ever — and has to be a top five oddest statement ever made by a sitting US president. Here it is, in full — because nothing else would do it justice:
“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. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party.
“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. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.
“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. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
“We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down.”
Or, more accurately: HOLY CRAP.
The Trump statement comes in response to excerpts adapted from Michael Wolff’s soon-to-be-released book detailing the first year of the Trump presidency that emerged on Wednesday morning in The Guardian newspaper. (A long and incredible excerpt from the book is on the New York magazine website as well.) In the excerpts, Bannon calls the July 2016 meeting between three top officials for the Trump campaign and several Russians “treasonous.” Bannon is also quoted by Wolff as openly dismissive of Trump himself as well as the President’s eldest son, Don Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
There is nothing Trump hates more than disloyalty — especially among those whom he believes to be members of his inner circle, which Bannon absolutely was.
And so, Trump brought out the flamethrower. And he torched Bannon.
This is Trump, of course, so there’s a fair amount of misinformation even in this relatively short statement. The ideas — repeated several times — that Bannon had a) very little to with Trump’s victory and/or b) very little influence within the White House where he served as senior strategist — are simply wrong.
Bannon, as expertly documented by Josh Green in his book “Devil’s Bargain,” served as the architect of Trump’s policy vision for America — giving actual meat to the bare bones of gut instinct that Trump had to start with.
Yes, as Trump notes in his statement, Bannon was brought on in August 2016, after the Republican nomination was locked up. But his relationship with Bannon long predates that hiring.
The two men met via conservative activist David Bossie in 2011, when Trump was mulling the possibility of running for president in 2012. As far back as July 2015, Trump was tweeting favorably about Bannon — and Breitbart News. “@BreitbartNews is much smarter than sleepy eyes @chucktodd @nbc http://t.co/Lb3PBlN3u0 Thanks to Steve Bannon & real reporters,” Trump tweeted on July 21, 2015. Five days earlier, Trump had tweeted out a praiseworthy Breitbart piece written by Bannon, headlined “TIME TO GET TOUGH: Trump’s Blockbuster Policy Manifesto.”
The core pillars of Trumpism — suspicion of globalism, a hard line on immigration policy, hatred of the mainstream media — all can be traced right back to Bannon and Breitbart, which he runs.
Then there is Trump’s assertion that Bannon was solely responsible for Roy Moore’s loss in the Alabama special election last month. There’s no doubt that Bannon was one of Moore’s most resolute backers — insisting, even in the face of a series of allegations that Moore had pursued relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s, that the whole thing was just an establishment plot to keep a true outsider from winning.
But it was Trump who decided to not only endorse the hugely controversial Moore but also hold a rally just 25 miles from the Alabama border on the Friday night before the election. Steve Bannon didn’t make Trump do that. Or, if he did, then Bannon has (or had) a lot more influence over Trump than the President lets on in his statement.
Rewrites of recent history aside, what comes through in Trump’s statement is his anger, his vitriol and his vengefulness.
Trump has already proven in 1,000 different ways how he is not now nor will he ever be “presidential” in the way that the 43 men who have held the office before him would define it. Whereas those men would nearly always default to taking the high road in any sort of public disagreement, Trump takes the low road. Every single time. Without fail.
As Wolff’s adapted excerpt in New York magazine makes clear, Trump has never grasped the idea that being elected president could or should change the way he approaches, well, anything. This passage, in particular, is revealing on that front:
“The big deal of being president was just not apparent to him. Most victorious candidates, arriving in the White House from ordinary political life, could not help but be reminded of their transformed circumstances by their sudden elevation to a mansion with palacelike servants and security, a plane at constant readiness, and downstairs a retinue of courtiers and advisers. But this wasn’t that different from Trump’s former life in Trump Tower, which was actually more commodious and to his taste than the White House.”
The White House hasn’t changed Donald Trump. He is the same impetuous, easy-to-anger, rarely pleased man he has been his entire life. Which means that when someone he liked and trusted stabs him in the back (or is perceived by Trump to have stabbed him in the back), he goes berserk.
There are no off-limits topics (like, say, Bannon’s sanity). There is just pure Trump rage, channeled into words. The biggest, best and most beautifully nasty words.