One thing is clear after his “60 Minutes” interview: Steve Bannon is a newsmaking machine.
Nearly a dozen major headlines emerged from his sitdown with Charlie Rose, which was not just the first TV interview since Bannon resigned as President Trump’s chief strategist, but his first TV interview ever. So it’s not sheer hype when Breitbart plays up the comments of its executive chairman in a lead story headlined “25 Key Quotes From Steve Bannon’s 60 Minutes Interview.” CNN, after all, has “The 48 Most Revealing Lines of Steve Bannon’s ’60 Minutes’ Interview.” What’s more, the first half-dozen questions at Sarah Sanders’ briefing yesterday were about…the Bannon interview.
Rose was unusually aggressive for him—but fair—in Sunday’s two segments. Bannon got plenty of time to respond. And the preeminent headline involves a three-letter military metaphor. Washington Post: “Bannon Declares War with Republican Leadership in Congress.” That’s no exaggeration, given that Bannon told the CBS show that “the Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election.” He named names, saying “Mitch McConnell, and to a degree, Paul Ryan…do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented.” (Although another way of looking at it is that they haven’t been able to amass the necessary votes, as on ObamaCare.”)
And lawmakers will be “put on notice” and “held accountable if they do not support the president of the United States,” Bannon said. Politico says Bannon “is launching an all-out war against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment,” and “potentially undermining the party’s prospects in 2018 and further inflaming tensions between GOP leaders and the White House.”
What’s being reported is that Bannon will lead Trump’s allies in recruiting candidates for primary challenges against recalcitrant Republicans, and that he could get financial support from wealthy conservative donor Robert Mercer, a major backer of Breitbart. I don’t know how many of these challenges will materialize, but it’s not hard to see why incumbent Republicans would be upset about the president’s people targeting lawmakers of his own party—especially after his budget deal with the Democrats. Bannon, a self-described street fighter, said Ryan and his colleagues assured the White House that they could repeal Obama’s health care program by Easter. And he said “I’m worried about losing the House now.” That was when he said the Dreamers program should be abolished, a not-so-subtle split with the president who says he wants Congress to legalize it within six months. And this could lead to “a civil war inside the Republican Party.”
More fundamentally, Bannon says “we embraced the establishment” after winning—which was necessary to staff a government, he says, but in his view tilted away from the candidate’s hard-line campaign promises. The Trump confidante also told “60 Minutes” that White House aides such as Gary Cohn should quit after criticizing the president’s response to Charlottesville: “If you’re going to break with him, resign.” Bannon said the president’s firing of James Comey was the worst decision in modern political history. He said Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and the rest of George W. Bush’s national security team were “idiots” on foreign policy (and that the same could be said of the Obama and Clinton teams). He said the Russia investigation is “a waste of time.”
Bannon said Catholic bishops have “an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration”—which prompted a strong denial from the church. When Rose suggested that Trump’s tweeting is not in his best interest, Bannon pushed back against “the Washington Post, and the New York Times, and CBS News,” saying Trump doesn’t think they’re looking out for his interests. As for himself, “I don’t need the affirmation of the mainstream media.”
Whether you like Bannon or not, consider what he has accomplished. He wasn’t widely known, except to political and media insiders, when he joined Trump’s campaign in the late summer of 2016. Now, after a short stint in the White House, his appearance on television’s top newsmagazine made news everywhere as he positions himself as Trump’s outside field general for 2018.