White House chief strategist Steve Bannon joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in August 2016. But the former executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News has been part of Mr. Trump’s trusted circle for many years.
The new book “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency” (Penguin) chronicles the intertwined paths of both men, and how they reached the White House.
Author Joshua Green writes: “Any study of Trump’s rise to the presidency is therefore unavoidably a study of Bannon, too.”
Green, a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, has known Bannon since 2011 and has talked to him on and off the record ever since. “He was a filmmaker, he was this kind of fringe character in Washington that not a lot of people knew or thought would be important,” Green said.
The book details how Bannon and Mr. Trump came together, as well as the rise of the alt-right and Bannon’s years-long plot to tear down Hillary Clinton which, Green says, was what endeared him to Mr. Trump and helped him get elected.
Of Bannon, Green said, “Here’s a guy who was very smart, who succeeded in all sorts of different realms, but came from a blue-collar family, deeply traditional Catholic background. Managed to get into Harvard Business School. Survived by his own wits at Goldman Sachs and Hollywood. I think that really gave him a connection to Trump, who saw him as a dealmaker, as someone who spoke his language, as somebody who’s comfortable with moguls, and somebody who had ideas that Trump recognized at an intuitive level could advance Trump’s career.
“And of course then they had kind of a falling out when Bannon’s profile rose to a level that Trump wasn’t comfortable with,” as personified by a Feb. 13, 2017 Time magazine cover shot of Bannon, labeled “The Great Manipulator.”
“He had this kind of dramatic fall, and now he’s back,” Green said.
When asked what Bannon accomplished for the president, Green replied, “I think he did two things for Donald Trump: One is, Bannon was the mastermind of an interlocking group of political organizations funded by a right-wing billionaire whose mission was to tear down Hillary Clinton. The goal wasn’t to do that for Trump; this was long before Trump was the nominee, but it was clear Clinton was probably going to be the Democratic candidate, and Trump wound up being the beneficiary of Bannon’s efforts. …
“We saw in the Republican primaries Donald Trump doesn’t think a lot about policy but he’s able to kind of dominate the opponents in a way most politicians aren’t, and he used a lot of Bannon’s ideas to do that and to knock out what everybody thought was the strongest Republican presidential field.
“The other thing he did is, when [Bannon] took over Trump’s campaign in August, Trump was really floundering in the polls. Bannon managed to get Trump focused away from Megyn Kelly, away from the Khan family, and use all that anti-Hillary knowledge to keep him focused on the opposition.”
Green acknowledged there was a lot of political overlap between the two, as Trump always had populist populist impulses, even if his earlier target was trade with Japan rather than trade with China. “I think Bannon really brought the idea of illegal immigration and understood its power as a political issue, and Trump really became the vessel for those ideas, and it’s what carried him to the White House,” Green said.
“They’re not together on everything. Bannon, like most of us — certainly myself — did not understand from the get-go what a powerful politician Donald Trump was going to be. Bannon was advising him informally as long ago as 2010, thought he was an interesting guy, but nobody thought he was going to win the nomination or the presidency,” Green said.
When asked if Bannon believes Mr. Trump could have won the presidency without his aid, Green replied, “I think if you tortured Bannon, he wouldn’t answer that question. But my answer to that question is no, I don’t think he could have. Bannon’s efforts, specially the book ‘Clinton Cash,’ which Bannon helped mastermind, really tarnished his opponent in a way that she never fully recovered from.
“And then on the flip side his ability to keep Trump focused on Clinton in the homestretch of the race, and then you have the James Comey revelations, and suddenly Trump was able to pull ahead. I give Bannon a lot of credit for having helped Trump do that.”
Barely six months into his administration,.
“He’s lost a lot of support he had with independents, but his base has stuck with him,” Green said. “The kind of people that Steve Bannon talks to has so far have stuck with him. The question is going to be, can Trump ever deliver anything for these people legislatively, or is he going to spend four years in national scandal? Ultimately he needs to deliver for them economically and fulfill some of these promises he made. There’s no sign yet that he’s really going to be able to do that in any area, other than cracking down on illegal immigration, which of course was one of Trump’s big promises.”
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