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JANUARY 5, 2018
Kuttner on TAP
If a liberal strategist or screenwriter had scripted the Bannon-Trump crack-up, it would be hard to improve on events now unfolding. Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, is only a more detailed version of what the world knows all too well. Donald Trump is an undisciplined mess, unfit to govern. His cabinet knows all too well what a total idiot he is, and says so.
As for Bannon’s comments, don’t forget that he made these remarks to Wolff several months ago, since it takes that long for a book to gestate. The comments are totally in character with Bannon’s own narcissism and recklessness. He made the same kind of casually devastating assessment of Trump in his August conversation with me, which turned out to be the last straw that led to his dismissal from the White House.
A few weeks after he was fired, Bannon took my phone call and met with me at the Breitbart townhouse. There, he told me that he and Trump continued to talk regularly. Apparently, even after Bannon was too radioactive to work at the White House, Trump still felt he needed Bannon.
This latest spate of published remarks, however, led to a final breach with Trump and a display of presidential impotent rage. Trump, preposterously, tried to get a court to block publication of the book. Presumably, Trump has never heard of the Pentagon Papers. Courts never back prior restraint of publications, and this issue becomes totally moot in the internet age, when the text could simply be posted and go viral.
Even more pathetic is Trump’s effort to go after Bannon on the premise that Bannon is bound by a non-disclosure agreement more characteristic of the entertainment industry than of politics. Trump has probably never read a political memoir either.
Bannon and his home base, Breitbart, have been uncharacteristically quiet since this latest blow-up. But it will help further fragment the Trump coalition.
Bannon, a hero to the right-wing populist base, is basically telling Trump voters that they have been played for suckers; that Trump is in bed with the billionaires, and not delivering for regular people. In this respect he helps progressives get that message out. The Tea Party diehards will be torn between their support for Trump and their affinity for Bannon.
Meanwhile, the GOP mainstream in Congress will be even more worried that Trump is not only a lunatic, but a flagrant, obvious lunatic. Financial backers of Bannon are already jumping ship.
In a petulant rage, Trump abruptly shut down the Pence-Kobach commission on voter fraud, a Bannon idea. Vice President Pence, despite his fawning loyalty to Trump, was collateral damage.
Support in Republican ranks is likely to grow for getting rid of Trump before the November elections. This will come to a head when Robert Mueller tenders his report. At that point, GOP leaders could well warn Trump that the time has come for him either to resign or to face the risk of a bipartisan impeachment inquiry.
Steve Bannon turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. People ask what his game is. Based on my experience, his game is the greater glory of Steve Bannon, the ideology of racializing economic grievances, and total war on the establishment press and what’s left of the Republican establishment. If Donald Trump is a useful instrument to Bannon, then Bannon will use him, ridiculing him while professing loyalty. When even Trump sees through the game, Bannon jettisons Trump and moves on.
Both men are crackpots, whom history has thrust into positions of alarming influence. Let us hope they continue to do each other in. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

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