The widespread impression that the administration of President Donald Trump is floundering over race, trade, and North Korea received some ratification when Steve Bannon called Robert Kuttner, of The American Prospect, apparently just to vent after a frustrating day at the office.
According to the ‘official story’ (if you suspect something else is going on you aren’t alone), Bannon forgot to request that the conversation be kept off the record. Kuttner’s ESP wasn’t working, so he went with the default assumption that the remarks were quotable. And a fascinating article they made.
Bannon thinks that the Big Picture in the world today is the competition between the People’s Republic of China and the United States over who will be the globe hegemon in 30 years. He believes that the showdown with North Korea is a distraction or worse. Further, Bannon doesn’t believe there is an effective saber for the U.S. to rattle vis-à-vis NK. He told Kuttner, “Unless 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 … there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Bannon described himself as battling within the White House to leave the Korean issue aside and take a harder line on China.
Bannon is generally seen as an alt-right figure and often discussed in the same breath with the white nationalists at Charlottesville, one of whom murdered Heather Heyer. Kuttner asked Bannon about what they both seem to call “ethno-nationalism.” Bannon said the white nationalists are “a fringe element … and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”
Left Wing View
In general, the left has responded analytically to this interview, while the right has taken it as encouragement for further intramural games. Later on the evening of the interview, Vox posted Dylan Matthews’ reflections, fitting into the analytical mold.
Matthews sees the attitude expressed in the Kuttner interview as a “big shift” from a man who once proudly headed Brietbart, called it a “platform for the alt-right.” Now he wants to “crush” the alt-right, ignore ethnic identity, and focus on trade war with China?
Bannon didn’t call Kuttner by accident. He chose Kuttner as the recipient of his venting because Kuttner is, as Matthews puts it, “a vocal critic of international trade deals and in particular of China’s trade behavior.”
Matthews takes comfort from Bannon’s comments on North Korea, which are of course considerably less hawkish than the President’s talk of furious fire.
Jonathan Swan, of Axios, also offered a leftward take on the interview Wednesday evening. Swan’s focus is mostly on what the interview tells us about the internal dynamics of the administration. Bannon is “already under pressure, with colleagues lined up against him and a president who … tells associates he thinks Bannon is a leaker.” The call to Kuttner won’t lessen that impression.
Right Wing View
Bannon has made many adversaries on the right, and the interview has certainly brought them out.
On Wednesday evening Bill Kristol (the son of the founder of neo -conservatism, and a bearer of that ideological torch himself) tweeted that Bannon’s attitude toward North Korea was “defeatist,” and predicted he would be fired the following day.
The following morning Kristol restated that he assumed Bannon would be fired “today,” and added that it will be a pleasure to see him gone.
Owen Ellickson offers us a choice of two hypotheses, “Bannon is smart and has a plan,” or “Bannon got wasted and accidentally bragged on the record.” He believes that the latter is a good deal more plausible.
For a right-wing defense of Bannon one may turn, appropriately, to Breitbart. There Matthew Boyle portrays Trump and Bannon as Batman and Robin, fighting together for “economic nationalism” and for keeping it distinct from ethno-nationalism in the process.
Bannon Tries Again
On Thursday morning, Bannon again called a reporter – this time David Martosko, US political editor for the Daily Mail – to explain that his call to Kuttner had been a strategic coup. He gave himself credit for drawing fire away from the President and for changing the narrative.
Changing it from what to what else? From statues to trade policy? There doesn’t seem to be a higher level of trade policy discussion in the air Thursday, among conservatives or otherwise, compared to what there was Monday. And statues are still very much up for discussion.