With all the news about Stephen K. Bannon unloading in Michael Wolff’s upcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” I am again reminded of the remarkable similarities between Bannon and Nick Nolte’s character, Four Leaf Tayback, in the film “Tropic Thunder.” Tayback looks like a grizzled, seasoned veteran, but really, he was just a fraud and a kook. Like Bannon, Tayback wasn’t a source of inspiration. He was an overacting phony. Similarly, Bannon was never the focal point of the Trump movement — or any discernible political movement, for that matter. Rather, he was — and continues to be — a crank. I think this clip of Tayback that I have used before kind of sums up the phony Bannon approach to politics:
For whatever reason, Donald Trump gave Bannon a shot and the spotlight that came along with it. But according to Trump, Bannon didn’t have much impact on the campaign and he couldn’t cut it inside the White House for a single year. And now it appears that what Trump giveth, Trump taketh away. Or maybe not. Trump unloaded on Bannon yesterday, saying, “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” But Democrats and the media don’t want Bannon to go away or be silenced. They will do whatever they can to keep the fight going. Democrats want Bannon to testify about Russia, and the media would do anything for some interviews.
Even though Bannon has some redeeming qualities in that his daughter went to West Point and he was a successful banker and entrepreneur, he never knew anything about elections or politics. His gut instincts are warped and have never been aligned with the dynamics of the day.
The media has propped Bannon up, making his influence appear larger than it truly is. But Bannon never had the credentials or the temperament to serve as senior adviser to a presidential campaign, let alone as White House chief strategist. His inexperience and incoherence were apparent, and as the revealing excerpt from Wolff’s book details, it had a profoundly negative impact on the administration’s ability to effectively build coalitions and seek counsel from executive-branch agencies and officials.
With that said, I never thought Bannon was the cause of Trump’s problems. But he didn’t do anything to stop them from arising, either. In fact, he made everything inside Trump World worse. And following his ouster from the White House, Bannon tried to solidify his corrosive presence by working with the likes of Roy Moore and vowing to oppose anyone backed by Republican leadership.
Nothing about how Bannon has behaved is surprising. Bannon was never concerned with advancing the interests of the Republican Party so much as with creating divisions and promoting his half-cocked nationalist worldview. He willfully plays into the media’s desperate attempt to paint him as the personification of the alt-right, but Bannon is not a legitimate force in American politics. He doesn’t speak for anyone other than himself. And now, thanks to the “Fire and Fury” fiasco, it looks like he won’t be able to thread the needle and still appeal to donors, candidates and party organizers as someone who brings Trump’s magic to a serious political organization.
So, does Wolff’s book change anything? A real and permanent split between Bannon and Trump is a good thing for the Republican Party and for the president. Having Bannon offer himself as an agent of Trump’s and as someone who could claim to be able to mobilize the president’s forces would have been nothing but poison during the 2018 midterms.
Trump drew a clear line yesterday between his political realm and Bannon’s divisive, self-serving agenda. The media may continue to inflate his profile, but like Four Leaf Tayback, Bannon has finally been exposed as the fraud he is.