The political world’s latest feast is chewing over the stunningly candid comments of Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump‘s polarizing and already embattled chief strategist, trashing associates and policies on North Korea and China — to a liberal writer, no less.
This dish isn’t quite as wild as last month’s phone call from Anthony Scaramucci to a New Yorker reporter. That one cost Scaramucci his job 10 days in for its combination of profanity, allusions to sex acts and backstabbing.
Still, Bannon knew that history when he decided to unload his opinions to the liberal co-editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, whom he had never met.
He is either very confident in his job status or wants to get a few things off his chest before seeing the exit.
Bannon spoke openly about dispatching rivals in the administration, including in the Defense and State departments, who oppose his drive to confront China on trade. “They’re wetting themselves,” he added.
And he flatly contradicted Trump’s strategy of tough talk in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat: “There’s no military solution, forget it.”
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, ” Bannon said. “There’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Trump has all but declared victory after Kim Jong Un tamped down his threats to attack Guam this week.
Because there’s no solution to the North Korea problem, the White House should stop worrying about getting China’s help on that issue and go hard against Chinese trade, Bannon said, pushing an issue that has been top priority for him.
The U.S. and China are in an “economic war,” Bannon said, adding that “one of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years, and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path” of not confronting the Chinese over trade.
Such a sharp public contradiction on an important and volatile issue like Korea is startling for a top aide who expects to keep his job. Indeed, Trump failed to give Bannon a vote of confidence on Tuesday, saying “we’ll see” when asked if Bannon would stay at the White House.
That lack of a strong endorsement added more intrigue to the American Prospect article.
So was he on the record? Some allies have suggested that Bannon did not think he was. But Kuttner seemed to anticipate those arguments, saying that the question never came up in their phone call. Like most reporters, he therefore considered it on the record.
Bannon is, after all, a former news chief.
“Steve Bannon is not exactly Bambi when it comes to dealing with the press,” Kuttner wrote. “He’s probably the most media-savvy person in America.”