The information that President Trump sees has been a major subplot of the White House's internal drama. Aides often privately describe the president as highly susceptible to acting upon the last piece of information he's seen — no matter how dubious. And controlling that flow of information is a big part of new White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly's effort to right the ship and keep the Oval Office on-task.
But rarely do you see someone close to the president just come out and admit how unsophisticated he is as a consumer of information.
That's what Stephen K. Bannon did Monday night, though not quite in so many words. While chatting with Fox News's Sean Hannity, the former White House chief strategist suggested that Trump was essentially duped into supporting appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in Tuesday's Alabama special-election runoff. And it wasn't really all that subtle.
Bannon, who along with Breitbart and some other Trump stalwarts, has endorsed former state Supreme Court justice Roy Moore against Strange, told Hannity that there needs to be a “real … review” of how Trump came to the decision to endorse Strange.
“They tried to destroy Donald Trump; the same gang that is going after Roy Moore is the same gang that went after Donald Trump,” Bannon said. “And I have to tell you, I think at some time later after [Tuesday], a real, you know, review has to be done of how President Trump got the wrong information and came down on the wrong side of the football here.”
Bannon's reasons for saying this are pretty apparent. Among them:
- He is signaling to potential Moore supporters that Strange really isn't Trump's kind of candidate and that they should feel good about voting for Moore.
- He is trying to give Trump an out after the special election — which Moore is favored to win — by suggesting that Moore was really the more Trumpian candidate all along.
- He is perhaps settling old White House scores by arguing that those around Trump don't have his interests at heart. (Bannon was one of those sources of information Kelly has sought to clamp down on.)
But making that argument — that Trump was duped — also means arguing that he is capable of being duped, and apparently rather easily in this case. Inherent in Bannon's argument is the idea that Trump either isn't discerning enough to make that endorsement decision for himself, or at least that he doesn't do enough homework.
Bannon is basically confirming everything aides have said privately about how unsophisticated Trump is in consuming information. This is the president of the United States, and Bannon is talking about him as if he's still a total political novice — a weather vane, even.
That's a pretty stunning admission coming from one of the people who has worked closest with Trump.