Bannon comments could spell trouble for Trump’s presidency
Analysis: furore over Wolfe book will have a serious impact on Republican party’s future
As a cold spell descended on Washington DC this week, another political drama was gripping the city.
The publication of excerpts of a new book by Michael Wolff containing damaging details about the inner workings of the Trump presidency appeared to catch the administration by surprise on Wednesday, prompting Trump to dictate a furious written statement from the White House.
By late Thursday night, queues of people were braving the inclement weather to line up at bookshops in DC and New York to buy the book at midnight after the publishers brought forward publication by three days in defiance of a last-ditch effort by Trump’s lawyers to halt the publication.
Among the most incendiary allegations in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House were those relating to the Trump family and the inner dynamics of the West Wing. These include the claim that the president’s daughter, Ivanka, imagined herself as the first US woman president, and that Melania Trump was on the verge of tears on inauguration day.
The book also claims that Donald Trump and his team never believed they would win the presidency. “Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role . . . The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president,” wrote Wolff in the New York magazine article that heralded the arrival of the book this week.
But away from the more salacious allegations and domestic intrigues revealed in Fire and Fury, it was the comments attributed to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon that could have serious ramifications for the presidency.
Bannon’s comments on the Russian investigation are likely to cause alarm in the White House. In particular, he said that the chance that Donald Trump jnr – whose meeting with Russian individuals at Trump Tower in June 2016 is under intense scrutiny – did not introduce his father to the Russians was “zero”.
He also predicted that the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election would centre on money-laundering – a claim that aligns with recent reports that the president’s bankers, Deutsche Bank, will be obliged to provide information to the inquiry.
While many of the book’s other allegations have been disputed by the individuals involved, Bannon has not denied the quotes attributed to him.
If corroborated in any way, Bannon’s comments on Trump’s links with Russia could spell trouble for the president, particularly in light of fresh allegations about the Russia investigation in the New York Times on Friday that shed new light on the president’s efforts to persuade attorney general Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
The controversy over the Wolff book may also have implications for the future of the Republican Party.
Many longtime Republicans could barely contain their glee at the signs of a break between the president and his long-time advisor. Republican congressman and Irish-American Peter King, who memorably described Steve Bannon last month as “some dishevelled drunk that wandered on to the political stage”, wrote on Twitter: “Congrats to @POTUS Trump for pulverizing loud mouth self promoter Bannon. Time for Bannon to disappear or find work in a circus.”
Ever since Trump’s unlikely ascent to the presidency, a battle has been raging within the Republican Party about its future direction, as traditional Republicans struggled with the kind of crude, unorthodox populism that Trump and his firebrand advisor Bannon promulgated.
The apparent feud between Trump and Bannon – the president dismissed his one-time confidante as “Sloppy Steve” in a tweet – may signal the beginning of the end of the man who provided the ideological basis for Trumpism.
Further, big Republican donors are breaking ranks with Bannon, a development that could have implications for November’s mid-term elections. In a surprise statement on Thursday, Rebekah Mercer, a billionaire donor who along with her father backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said that while she supported Trump and the platform upon which he was elected, “my family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda”.
With Trump hosting senior Republicans at Camp David this weekend, many of the longtime Republicans such as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Paul Ryan are likely to have a spring in their step.
The defeat of Roy Moore in last month’s Alabama election coupled with the apparent demise of Steve Bannon suggests that the attempted hostile takeover of the Republican Party by an emboldened, populist wing may have been stemmed for now. Ensuring the president sticks with the more mainstream agenda of the party may be another challenge, however, as it approaches the midterm elections.