Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, seemed to take issue with President Trump on North Korea, attacked white supremacists as “clowns” and “losers” and described his efforts against administration rivals in an unusual interview Wednesday with The American Prospect, a progressive magazine.
The interview with magazine co-editor and columnist Robert Kuttner was initiated by Bannon, Kuttner said, in an Anthony Scaramucci-style phone call out of the blue in response to a column Kuttner had written on China.
“Bannon was in high spirits when he phoned me Tuesday afternoon to discuss the politics of taking a harder line with China, and minced no words describing his efforts to neutralize rivals at the Departments of Defense, State and Treasury,” wrote Kuttner.
“’They’re wetting themselves,’ he said, proceeding to detail how he would oust some of his opponents at State and Defense.”
On North Korea, Bannon said: “’Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.’”
That comment seemed at odds with Trump’s “fire and fury” threats to use military force against North Korea.
On China, Bannon told Kuttner that the United States was at “economic war” and warned that “one of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path,” according to the article.
“On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow,” he said.
Bannon was also asked by Kuttner to comment on the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last weekend and President Trump’s reluctance to condemn the participants.
“Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element,” Bannon told the magazine. “I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, eh, help crush it more.”
“These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.
The remarks were startling coming from Bannon, who spent more than four years running the far-right website Breitbart News before he was tapped to join Trump’s campaign.
Bannon, the site’s former executive chair, has called the Breitbart “a platform of the alt-right.”
The alt-right, by some definitions, is a small, deeply conservative movement that seeks a whites-only state. It was his strategy to use the site to channel white supremacist support for Trump and provide a mouthpiece for his populist message during the 2016 election, a move that helped secure him a senior role in the administration.
In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, which left a counterprotester dead and others injured, civil rights leaders have called on Trump to fire Bannon over his ties to the white nationalist community, as The Washington Post has reported.
Asked by reporters Tuesday if he still had confidence in his chief strategist, Trump deflected.
“He’s not a racist, I can tell you that,” Trump said. “But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
Kuttner wrote in Wednesday’s article that he was surprised when he got an email from one of Bannon’s assistants saying he wanted to arrange a meeting. The two ended up speaking by phone on Tuesday afternoon, according to the article.
When the conversation turned to race and the events in Charlottesville, Bannon dodged questions about his role in cultivating the alt-right, according to the article. He also faulted Democrats for focusing on identity politics.
“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” he said. “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Kuttner said he was puzzled by the fact that Bannon would call an editor at a progressive magazine and “assume that a possible convergence of views on China trade might somehow paper over the political and moral chasm on white nationalism.”
“The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up,” he said. “This is also puzzling, since Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press. He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.”
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