When I saw all the stories yesterday about quotes from Steve Bannon in Michael Wolff's upcoming book, Fire and Fury, one particular quote leaped out. It wasn't one that's gotten nearly the attention of the juicier statements, and it wasn't because it had any substantive probative value. But I have a friend who just HATES Donald Trump Jr., hates him with a white-hot consuming passion, so I immediately knew that among all of the headline-making quotes about the president, he'd instead hone in on and absolutely love reading where Bannon says -- "They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
(A close second was, "The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office of the 26th floor is zero.” Yes, I know that one has political meaning compared to the other, but again, I knew he'd love it instead for his pure hatred of "that little self-righteous, whiny, entitled f*ck-face . He is such an idiot, God, I just hate him, he drives me nuts, he is so stupid, he wouldn't do anything without running to tell daddy first."
My friend aside, one thing that has been interesting in most other people's reaction and the coverage is that because of all the focus on these Bannon quotes the perception seems to be that this is a book about Steve Bannon, a sort of tell-all, and that it's like he gave this interview only weeks ago trying to make some devious political point. But it's critical to keep in mind that this isn't a book about Steve Bannon at all. Author Wolff had access to the administration for something like nine months, and did interviews with over 200 people. Bannon is just one small part of the book. And his quotes aren't from some sneaky interview only the other day. They come over a long period of time. As do everyone's. The book is about the Trump administration, and how dysfunctional it is.
In fact, scrolling through the home page of the Raw Story website, they had articles covering a whole range of stories from the book, none of which had the slightest to do with Steve Bannon. Without going into the articles themselves, here are just some of the headlines which leaped out all on their own --
"Donald Trump used his Trump Tower secretary to trick his buddies' wives into sleeping with him"
"Trump's eyes rolled back in his head as aide struggled to explain the Constitution to him"
"Hope Hicks fled the room after Trump called her 'the best of tail' Lewandowski will ever have"
"First Lady Melania Trump was horrified by Trump’s win — and she cried “tears — and not of joy” on the night of her husband’s victory."
The thing is, when I had lunch with a friend later, I brought up the news about the book, and he largely dismissed it disinterested, saying that these Bannon quotes merely confirm things we already assumed. But I said that he was overlooking two important things.
The first was that it's one thing to assume something, it's another entirely have someone on the inside confirm them. (He thought a moment, and then agreed.) And the second was that although there was no legal worth to any of the quotes, at most just bread crumbs to follow-up on, they held a massive psychological value -- something based on the admonition, "If your enemies are shooting at each other, get out of the way and let them." The value of all this, probably far more than anything, is the wedge this will drive between the two wings of the GOP base. (And he ended up agreeing with that, as well.)
And already that's precisely what has happened. Within hours, I saw the first headline story of many more to come -- "'Trumptard snowflake': Breitbart fans eat each other alive after Bannon calls Don Jr. 'treasonous'". It seems that readers couldn't figure out among themselves what side to support.
And then, not long after, Trump himself put out one of the more bizarre presidential statements one is ever likely to see, so bizarre that him saying Steve Bannon had "lost his mind" was remarkably not the most off-kilter thing in it. Keep in mind, too, that there were over 200 people interviewed for the book. And that countless of administration insiders, including personal friends of Trump found different ways of calling him stupid, idiotic and a moron. Rupert Murdoch is quoted as calling him a "f*cking idiot." The spokesman for Trump's lawyer says he resigned because he felt that obstruction of justice had been committed. There's a story about Trump manipulating the wives of his friends to get them to sleep with him. His own daughter tells a ridiculing story about the careful way he combs his hair to cover his big bald spot, made smaller through hair-replacement surgery -- which for someone as vain, egomaniacal and insular as Trump may have been the worst and most disloyal of all the quotes in the book. And more, on and on. And for all that, the only person he takes on and slams, even mentions is Steve Bannon. Which lead to another divisive headline I soon saw --
"Trump supporter tells Fox News that attacking Bannon makes president look ‘insecure and weak’"
Then, later in the day, Trump's lawyers put out a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon for supposedly breaking a confidentially agreement (though apparently it only covered time during the campaign, not after). And then they soon released a statement for Bannon to expect "imminent legal action."
(Mind you, one wonders if this legal action, being imminent, will come before or after Trump sues the 19 women he threatened to sue during the campaign for accusing him of sexual harassment...)
Trump is never, not ever going to sue Steve Bannon, of course, because then Bannon's lawyers would get to depose Trump, and it would all be under oath, on the record, and everything could start pouring out. But the point is that this -- amid all the other people's quotes and problematic stories -- is far-and-away likely the biggest fallout from the book. The split between the Trump and Bannon camps in the GOP base, and how it damns both sides.
Indeed, there was a later story in the day that said how Bannon's quote has now made his political endorsement a risk for many Republican candidates. Yet it's not like that means that the advantage will all fall to Trump since, with his 34% approval and failed track record in recent endorsements, his endorsement may not be welcome in every Republican district either. So, the GOP is left with two wings of its base without leaders to push candidates effectively in the mid-terms.
The thing is, author Wolff says that he can only verify what is said in the book, not whether everything the people told him is true. I'm sure there's a lot of posturing by those who spoke to him. I'm equally sure a lot of it is true, since it does overlap with things we already know.
But mainly, this is a significant break. Like a little crack that only gets bigger over time until, eventually, the land mass splits apart and you have two separate continents.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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