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On Friday morning, as Wolff’s explosive tell-all hit retail shelves amid a publishing hysteria usually reserved for Harry Potter sequels, the author appeared on NBC’s Today to defend his credibility and remind people of the target of his takedown.
Cue the law of unintended consequences.
Has anyone seen Mr. Bannon? What’s he doing? My guess is chugging moonshine out of a military boot while rewatching old SNL skits that glorified him as the Grim Reaper. Or maybe he’s staring at his craggy face on the cover of Time magazine and wondering how he went from the Great Manipulator to the Great Pariah in less time than it takes Drake to rhyme a new beat.
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If the goal of Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was to inflict reputational damage via 18 months of gadfly-on-the-wall impressionistic reportage, it is Bannon who has suffered the first hit. And it may well prove fatal.
A few months ago, pundits were calling him the second most powerful man in the world. Now it’s not clear Bannon has enough power to land an entry-level job at a FedEx sorting plant. He was once a boogeyman to the left and a feared kingmaker to the right, a rumpled merchant of political chaos animated by anti-establishment hostility and the burn-it-down impulses of an arsonist.
But by agreeing to participate in Wolff’s book at a time when he was serving as Trump’s chief lieutenant, what Bannon has retroactively torched is his own future. In the months before Friday’s publication, he was already on a downward trajectory.
This week, he crash-landed in a field of irrelevance.
Bannon is alone. Former friends and supporters are fleeing his side as if he has Ebola. There are whispers he could lose his job as chairman of Breitbart. He is now so despised by fellow travellers on the right, he might as well buy a blond wig and change his name to Hillary Clinton.
In various excerpts of Fire and Fury, the grenades Bannon chucked at Trump and Trump’s family — Ivanka was deemed “dumb as a brick,” Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russians was “treasonous” — somehow rolled back to his feet before going kaboom.
What’s truly baffling is how an allegedly brilliant strategist could be such a colossal dumbass. If anyone should understand the perils of getting into a war of words with Trump, it is Bannon. If anyone should understand there is no upside to throwing dirt at Trump while still loosely trapped inside Trumpville, it is Bannon.
He knows where the other bodies are buried.
But with shovel in big mouth, he still dug his own grave.
The question is: Why? Why speak so candidly and put such trust in Wolff, a writer who has previously been accused of giving the cold shoulder to facts to paint compelling scenes that may or may not be based on reality? Why allow a member of the liberal media elite into the president’s orbit and grant him unfettered access? Why risk a crapstorm when few of the book’s observations seemed destined to land as revelatory?
I mean, Trump has been called a “child” more times in the last year than about 97 per cent of the world’s actual children. We already know the U.S. president’s reading materials are limited to fast food wrappers and the crawls on Fox News. We already know Trump didn’t expect to win the election and that his leadership since that surreal day has been one big blast of bedlam.
So by lashing out at Trump and the early days of an administration in which he was a central figure, Bannon has implicated himself in the swirling dysfunction while confirming the obvious about everyone else. He’s not hurting Trump; he’s cutting his own throat. He’s painting himself as a turncoat without having a new side to join.
Conservative megadonor Rebekah Mercer, once one of Bannon’s staunchest allies, all but disowned him this week. Meanwhile, Trump coined a new disparaging nickname for his former consigliere while tweeting about Wolff and the new book: “I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!”