Ringside With Steve Bannon at Trump Tower as the President-Elect’s Strategist Plots “An Entirely New Political Movement” (Exclusive)
10:00 AM PST 11/18/2016 by Michael Wolff
“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” Bannon tells THR media columnist Michael Wolff as the controversial Breitbart News chief turned White House advisor unleashes on Hillary Clinton, Fox News and his critics.They didn’t get that.
In late summer when I went up to see Steve Bannon, then recently named CEO of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, in his office at Trump Tower in New York, he outlined a preposterous-sounding scenario. Trump, he said, would do surprisingly well among women, Hispanics and African-Americans, in addition to working men, and hence take Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan — and therefore the election. On Nov. 15, when I went back to Trump Tower, Bannon, promoted by the president-elect to chief strategist for the incoming administration, and by the media as the official symbol of all things hateful and virulent about the coming Trump presidency, said, as matter-of-factly as when he first sketched it out for me, “I told you so.”
The liberal firewall against Trump was, most of all, the belief that the Republican contender was too disorganized, outlandish, outré and lacking in nuance to run a proper political campaign. That view was only confirmed when Bannon, editor of the outlandish and outré Breitbart News Network, took over the campaign in August. Now Bannon is arguably the most powerful person on the new White House team, embodying more than anyone the liberals’ awful existential pain and fury: How did someone so wrong — not just wrong, but inappropriate, unfit and “loathsome,” according to The New York Times — get it so spot-on right?
In these dark days for Democrats, Bannon has become the blackest hole.
“Darkness is good,” says Bannon, who amid the suits surrounding him at Trump Tower, looks like a graduate student in his T-shirt, open button-down and tatty blue blazer — albeit a 62-year-old graduate student. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they” — I believe by “they” he means liberals and the media, already promoting calls for his ouster — “get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” …
It’s the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media — that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp’s own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.
The focus on Bannon, if not necessarily the description, is right. He’s the man with the idea. If Trumpism is to represent something intellectually and historically coherent, it’s Bannon’s job to make it so. In this, he could not be a less reassuring or more confusing figure for liberals — fiercely intelligent and yet reflexively drawn to the inverse of every liberal assumption and shibboleth. A working class kid, he enlists in the navy after high school, gets a degree from Virginia Tech, then Georgetown, then Harvard Business School. Then it’s Goldman Sachs, then he’s a dealmaker and entrepreneur in Hollywood — where, in an unlikely and very lucky deal match-up, he gets a lucrative piece of Seinfeld royalties, ensuring his own small fortune — then into the otherworld of the vast right-wing conspiracy and conservative media. (He partners with David Bossie, a congressional investigator of President Clinton, who later spearheaded the Citizens United lawsuit that effectively removed the cap on campaign spending, and who now, as the deputy campaign manager, is in the office next to Bannon’s.) And then to the Breitbart News Network, which with digital acumen and a mind-meld with the anger and the passion of the new alt-right (a liberal designation Bannon derides) he pushes to the inner circle of conservative media from Breitbart’s base on the Westside of liberal Los Angeles.
What he seems to have carried from a boyhood in a blue-collar, union and Democratic family in Norfolk, Va., and through his tour of the American establishment, is an unreconstructed sense of class awareness, or bitterness — or betrayal. The Democratic Party betrayed its working-man roots, just as Hillary Clinton betrayed the longtime Clinton connection — Bill Clinton’s connection — to the working man. “The Clinton strength,” he says, “was to play to people without a college education. High school people. That’s how you win elections.” And, likewise, the Republican party would come to betray its working-man constituency forged under Reagan. In sum, the working man was betrayed by the establishment, or what he dismisses as the “donor class.” …
Bannon, arguably, is one of the people most at the battle line of the great American divide — and one of the people to have most clearly seen it.
He absolutely — mockingly — rejects the idea that this is a racial line. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years.
You don’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes you get what you need.
… “Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”I don’t have a lot of opinions on macroeconomics any more. I used to have a lot of opinions back in the 1970s and 1980s, but over the years, I’ve noticed that I don’t seem to have any particular knack for macroeconomics questions, that the field is complicated and the competition is tough. In contrast, there are lots of other intellectual fields where the competition is hamstrung by political correctness, so my ROI on my attention is much higher there.
So I don’t know why inflation and interest rates are so low at present. I don’t know what Bannon’s plan to exploit that will do.
Bannon represents, he not unreasonably believes, the fall of the establishment. The self-satisfied, in-bred and homogenous views of the establishment are both what he is against and what has provided the opening for the Trump revolution. “The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,” he continues. “It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern. The Huffington Post and everything else is predicated on The New York Times. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.”This is, presumably, a reference to Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series of historical novels about the social climbing adviser to King Henry VIII.
At that moment, as we talk, there’s a knock on the door of Bannon’s office, a temporary, impersonal, middle-level executive space with a hodgepodge of chairs for constant impromptu meetings. Sen. Ted Cruz, once the Republican firebrand, now quite a small and unassuming figure, has been waiting patiently for a chat and Bannon excuses himself for a short while. It is clear when we return to our conversation that it is not just the liberal establishment that Bannon feels he has triumphed over, but the conservative one too — not least of all Fox News and its owners, the Murdochs. “They got it more wrong than anybody,” he says. “Rupert is a globalist and never understood Trump. To him, Trump is a radical. Now they’ll go centrist and build the network around Megyn Kelly.” …
It is less than obvious how Bannon, now the official strategic brains of the Trump operation, syncs with his boss, famously not too strategic. … “He gets it; he gets it intuitively,” says Bannon, perhaps still surprised he has found such an ideal vessel. “You have probably the greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan, coupled with an economic populist message and two political parties that are so owned by the donors that they don’t speak to their audience. But he speaks in a non-political vernacular, he communicates with these people in a very visceral way. Nobody in the Democratic party listened to his speeches, so they had no idea he was delivering such a compelling and powerful economic message. …
“I am,” he says, with relish, “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.”