Stephen K. Bannon, who once boasted that the Senate majority leader would “bleed out” and who reportedly has thought about running for president, was back to groveling Sunday at the feet of his former boss. He strained to express remorse without taking back comments he made to “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” author Michael Wolff.
Cut off from billionaire Rebekah Mercer’s money and increasingly isolated on the right, Bannon fawned and flattered, knowing what a sucker President Trump is for that sort of stuff. (“My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama.”) There was no sentence too obsequious to be included. “President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus.”
He insisted he hadn’t meant to impugn Donald Trump Jr.’s patriotism when he mentioned him by name and called a meeting he arranged “treasonous.” He is quoted as having told Wolff, “The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero. . . They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.” In his supine statement, Bannon insisted he meant to attack Paul Manafort. (Huh?!) He purred, “I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”
Aside from the utter humiliation of a political hack with visions of grandeur, the statement is remarkable for what it does not say. He does not say the quotes were wrong. He does not retract his criticism of the Russia meeting. (In fact, he bolsters his credibility in denouncing the ill-advised meeting by citing his Cold War naval service.) He does not specifically rebut statements in the book about the president’s mental capacities. He does not retract his speculation that the Russians (“jumos”) were taken up to meet Trump personally. He does not retract his comment that Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation is about money laundering. (He simply repeats Trump’s phrase: “There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt.”) In essence, Bannon manages to prostrate himself before Trump but also in a way confirm — by refusing to rebut — many of the alarming statements in the book.
There are several political consequences that flow from Bannon’s groveling.
First, Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media likely will now focus on this, not the book, and declare “victory.” Bannon, of course, granted one of a reported 200 interviews for the Wolff book, although the White House has tried to make this about Bannon vs. Trump. Fox and other sycophantic outlets won’t bother with the details and instead will simply say Bannon discredited the book. (He did nothing of the kind, as I point out above.)
Second, there has really never been much of a divide between Bannonism and Trumpism. Bannon’s candidates were simply more outlandish than the original candidate (Trump) whose campaign Bannon hopped onto rather late. Trying to separate Bannon from Trump has also been a canard; now it will be impossible. Moreover, with the GOP-majority Congress back in Trump’s good graces, they are one big, happy family — Bannon, Trump and the GOP “establishment.” Republicans might try to distance themselves in the 2018 from Trump and/or Bannon, but it’s unlikely to persuade voters, especially when the candidates are voting for Trump’s agenda, ignoring his financial indiscretions and trying to smear the FBI.
Finally, incumbent Republican senators might rest just a little easier knowing Bannon is less likely to put up a primary opponent (unless Trump wants him to, in which case he’ll jump to it). The problem, however, for the GOP remains — this is the party of Trump and their failure to live up to their oaths as a constitutional check on the executive should be disqualifying.