Trump breaks with Bannon in dramatic fashion
President Trump split from Stephen Bannon in dramatic fashion on Wednesday after his once close political ally offered explosive criticism of the president and his family in a new book.
In a 267-word statement, an infuriated Trump accused his former chief strategist and top campaign aide of having “lost his mind” and of being “only in it for himself.”
“Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books,” Trump said.
The break could prove perilous for Bannon, who is trying to wage a war against the Republican establishment in an effort to elect conservatives he believes will be more loyal to Trump’s agenda.
While Trump has sometimes reconciled with foes, including Mitt Romney, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), it was difficult to imagine that the president and Bannon could see eye-to-eye again after Trump’s blistering words, which the White House and its allies piled onto in an effort to bury the Breitbart News leader.
Trump’s tone on Wednesday stood in stark contrast to his reaction after Bannon’s departure from the White House last August, underscoring the magnitude of the break between the two men.
“I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton — it was great! Thanks S,” he tweeted at the time.
Trump and Bannon last spoke in the “first part of December,” according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. They have not spoken since.
Allies of Bannon’s sought to distance themselves as the extent of his break with Trump became clear.
A pro-Trump outside group, Great America Alliance, which until recently had been a vehicle for Bannon’s endorsements of congressional candidates, said in a statement that it would continue to back candidates that support Trump’s agenda “whether or not Bannon shares this priority.”
In West Virginia, Rep. Evan Jenkins, a candidate in the state’s GOP Senate primary, called on rival Patrick Morrissey to renounce Bannon’s endorsement.
The White House also sent the signal that it wasn’t worried about a counterattack from Bannon and Breitbart, with Sanders saying Trump’s base would choose him over his adviser.
“The base and people that supported this president still support Donald Trump and his agenda. Those things haven’t changed,” she told reporters.
“Bannon has no contingent,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump backer, told reporters at the White House. “There’s a Trump wing of the Republican Party. There’s not a Bannon wing.”
Going after Bannon also shifted the focus a bit from the allegations made by the former White House aide and others as reported by a forthcoming book from author Michael Wolff.
Excerpts of the book paint a chaotic picture of Trump’s campaign and first year in the White House.
Bannon is sharply critical of Donald Trump Jr. for setting up a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer that was attended by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, describing it as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
He also said that he believed the visitors were taken to meet then-candidate Trump afterward.
Sanders swiftly denied that claim during her Wednesday briefing before turning her fire back to Bannon.
“Going after the president’s son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody,” she said.
Sanders said the president was “furious” and “disgusted” by the “completely false claims against the president, his administration and his family.”
Bannon and his allies were in crisis mode on Wednesday, blindsided by the sudden turn of events.
Some were dispirited by the break, believing the controversy was totally unnecessary, even if they sided with Bannon’s view that Trump Jr. had created an unnecessary political mess for his father.
Bannon has yet to respond to Trump’s statement. Several sources in Bannon’s immediate orbit were resigned to the avalanche of negative stories set to come out about him.
Enemies of Bannon celebrated the complete fracture of the Trump–Bannon relationship.
Bannon had promised to back primary candidates against every sitting Republican senator, with the exception of Cruz.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) allies cheered the news; a Twitter account belonging to the senator’s political operation posted a short video clip of McConnell grinning after Trump’s statement was released.
“Congrats to @POTUS Trump for pulverizing loud mouth self promoter Bannon,” tweeted Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “Time for Bannon to disappear or find work in a circus.”