WASHINGTON — Stephen Bannon has gone from Goldman Sachs and Hollywood dealmaker to publisher of Breitbart News, manager of the Donald Trump campaign and a senior White House adviser. And the man who just wrote a book about him said Bannon unleashed “a lot of ugly forces,” but that Trump wouldn’t be in the White House without him.
Bloomberg Business reporter Joshua Green, the author of “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the presidency,” told WTOP on Wednesday that “Trump’s not going to like the answer, but I don’t think Donald Trump would’ve been elected president without Steve Bannon.”
As a political reporter, Green said the questions he was most asked after Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton were “How did this happen?” and “How come no one saw this coming?”
And he said what he wanted people to take away from the book, “whether they’re Democrat, independent, Republican, is to … think ‘OK, now I understand what happened. I may not like it … or I may think it’s the greatest thing in the world. But now I understand what really happened to get Donald Trump elected president.’”
Bannon, who grew up outside Richmond in a Navy family, formally joined the Trump campaign in August 2016, but Bannon had been in Trump’s orbit for a long time before he officially joined the campaign, Green said. “A longtime fringe figure in right-wing politics” whose first targets were other Republicans — House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation was an early Bannon victory, Green said — Bannon was introduced to Trump by longtime Clinton muckraker David Bossie.
The two clicked right away, Green said: The candidate was taken by Bannon’s “kind of punch-you-in-the-nose approach that Donald Trump takes to everything.” Green said he was surprised when Bannon’s official hiring was announced, “but it made sense when you think about it.”
They’re both dealmakers, he said, with plenty of “alpha male swagger. And [Bannon’s] a smart guy — you don’t necessarily get that in his public portrayal, but he has a clear idea of what he’s trying to achieve, and a lot of people in the Trump White House don’t.”
‘Attack, attack, attack’
During the Republican primary campaign, Green said, Bannon was not only an informal adviser but also a critical figure. Bannon put Trump’s candidacy “into a broader narrative context,” Green said.
“It wasn’t just Donald Trump, the famous builder and developer — Trump did that one on his own. What Bannon did was say that Trump is part of this populist uprising that’s sweeping across the globe — [that] it’s arrived on U.S. shores; [that] Donald Trump is the avatar of populist nationalism, and he’s gonna take over the country.”
Bannon was responsible for “the ideas, a lot of the slogans,” Green said.
“He got Trump focused on immigration, and with Trump’s own spin about how ‘we’re gonna build a wall,’ he won over a lot of Republican voters.”
He formally joined the Trump campaign when it was floundering after a series of dust-ups — most notably with Khizr and Ghizala Khan, the parents of Humayun Khan, an American soldier killed in action in 2004.
“A couple of Trump’s advisers said ‘Listen — you need somebody who’s gonna fight harder for you, who’s gonna be more aggressive,’” Green said. And Bannon is “aggressive by nature.”
Bannon “got Trump focused on [the plan to] attack, attack, attack Hillary Clinton,” Green said. But that wasn’t all. As publisher of Breitbart and a longtime figure on what’s now known as the alt-right, Bannon “built this whole series of interlocking organizations that were attacking Hillary for years before Trump ever came on the scene.”
Between the two factors, “that was just enough to eke [out] a victory.”
The presence of Trump and Bannon in the White House, Green said, unleashed “a lot of ugly forces in our politics that became very prominent during the presidential race. And having pulled the cork out of the bottle and let them into our civic life, they’re not going away.”
On the outs?
It wasn’t long after Trump won, however, that Bannon reportedly found himself on the outs within the Trump White House. A mid-February Time magazine cover lauding Bannon as “The Great Manipulator” didn’t help, Green said.
“People were portraying Bannon as the puppet master, the guy pulling the strings,” Green said, and that didn’t sit well with the president.
“Donald Trump is the movie star in Donald Trump’s narrative, and he doesn’t want any co-stars. And Steve Bannon’s near-fatal problem was that he started to get … as much attention as his boss did.”
It wasn’t just with Trump: “[Bannon] has some very radical ideas … just on a personal level, he has a very volatile temper. In a lot of ways, he’s Trump-like. And he doesn’t have any experience in government at all. So the idea that Bannon and Trump are alone together in the White House, pulling the levers of power, upsets a lot of people — not just outside the White House, but inside the White House too.”
He’s since regained a seat in the inner circle of power at the White House, Green said, which is critical for him. Power “is everything to Steve Bannon,” and he realizes Trump is the best way to it, Green said.
“You would never find a Steve Bannon in a Marco Rubio administration or a Jeb Bush administration,” Green said. But with Trump, “who breaks all the political norms, Bannon knows that if he can stay in the White House, he’ll have the chance to impose his political ideas.”
And Green thinks that’ll happen. Bannon is “like a cockroach after a nuclear war,” Green said. “He is not gonna leave unless Trump or somebody forces him out.”
Joshua Green will discuss “Devil’s Bargain” at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. Northwest, on Sunday at 5 p.m.