Last week was pretty terrible for White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Amid reports that Bannon was battling Jared Kushner and other alleged White House “Democrats” Ivanka Trump and Gary Cohn for control of Trump’s agenda, the former Breitbart chief was booted from the National Security Council’s principals committee, and Trump launched a missile strike against the Assad regime, over Bannon’s objections.
There were even rumors that President Trump was considering firing Bannon, but tensions between the two West Wing factions dissipated when the president himself ordered Bannon and Kushner to sit down and hash things out on Friday.
Or maybe not.
On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Post’s Michael Goodwin asked President Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump said. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
He added, “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
It’s true that Trump was already the GOP nominee when Bannon became his campaign CEO, but it wasn’t “very late” in the campaign. The shakeup that saw the ouster of campaign manager Paul Manafort came in mid-August, which was a low point for Trump. Memorable moments from the two weeks prior to Bannon’s hiring include Trump feuding with a Gold Star family, suggesting Hillary Clinton should be shot, saying he’d expect Ivanka to quit her job if she was sexually harassed, and sassing a baby at a campaign rally.
There’s some truth to Trump’s rejection of the idea that Bannon wasn’t brought in to help him shift his strategy. For months Manafort had been trying to make Trump pivot to running a more traditional campaign. Bannon’s strategy was to turn in the opposite direction. The Washington Post reported in August:
Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.
There’s ample evidence that Trump did in fact “know Steve” long before he joined the campaign. David Bossie, president of Citizens United, told RealClearPolitics that he brought in Bannon when he and Trump were discussing a potential presidential bid in 2011:
“As Breitbart grew, Mr. Trump was constantly in touch with Steve about news articles and doing interviews with his reporters,” Bossie said. Bannon would also launch a radio show, on which Trump appeared as a regular guest; when the program moved under the Breitbart banner in 2014, Trump was Bannon’s first interview. In this election, the site has helpfully amplified Trump’s message and defended him against attacks.
Trump misremembering Bannon’s essential role in making him president isn’t just a personal slight. It’s reminiscent of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s efforts to downplay Trump’s relationship to former top staffers linked to the FBI’s investigation of the campaign’s Russia ties. Last month Spicer described former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as a “volunteer of the campaign,” and said Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
It’s not clear what Trump meant by “straighten it out or I will,” but it seems there’s little chance of the president firing his son-in-law.