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Exclusive: Bannon blasts 'con artist' Kochs, 'lame duck' Ryan, 'diminished' Kelly

Stephen Bannon is ratcheting up his war on the Koch network, accusing the billionaire brothers of running “a conscious scam” and a “con job.”

He also has a warning for Republican candidates in November’s midterm elections who might be thinking of distancing themselves from President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE: Don’t do it. 

GOP candidates need to get in lockstep with the president, Trump’s former chief strategist insists.

But that’s not all. 

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Bannon, a long time foe of establishment Republicans, says Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBoehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director MORE (R-Wis.) “should have been removed” as soon as he announced his decision not to seek reelection and is “retiring very simply because he never supported President Trump."

White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, whose arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was soon followed by Bannon’s departure, is someone whose power is “definitely diminished” and who is chief of staff in name only — despite reportedly having accepted Trump’s offer to stay through 2020.

“First off, chief of staff qua chief of staff — he’s not chief of staff. I mean, let’s be blunt,” Bannon said. 

Trump was now running the White House as informally as he had once run the Trump Organization, his former Svengali insisted.

“Gen. Kelly is there for more administrative matters,” Bannon said.

Bannon’s comments came in an almost two-hour interview with The Hill in a Capitol Hill townhouse this week. 

The former Breitbart News executive, dressed in a navy shirt and long shorts, acknowledged that he no longer speaks to Trump directly, following the storm that ensued after the publication of Michael Wolff’s exposé “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” earlier this year.

Bannon had cooperated extensively with Wolff and was quoted as calling “treasonous” a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr.Don TrumpTrump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run Trump Jr.: There are 'plenty' of GOP incumbents who should be challenged Donald Trump Jr. attacks Cheney at CPAC: 'Lincoln Project Liz' MORE, then-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortProsecutors drop effort to seize three Manafort properties after Trump pardon FBI offers 0K reward for Russian figure Kilimnik New York court rules Manafort can't be prosecuted by Manhattan DA MORE and Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report Biden to speak with Saudi king ahead of Khashoggi report: report Former Trump officials eye bids for political office MORE.

After the book’s publication, Trump tweeted derisively about “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon, Trump insisted, had “lost his mind.”

Bannon has always had his share of detractors for what they consider his self-aggrandizing and divisive style. The critics are eager to note his own strategic missteps, including his support for Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Shelby won't run for reelection The Seventeenth Amendment and the censure of Donald Trump MORE in the Senate race in Alabama won by Democratic candidate Doug Jones last December.

But the strategist still sees himself as a keeper of the Trumpian flame, and he retains extensive contacts among Trump confidants.

Trump’s tepid approval ratings have led some GOP strategists to say that the party’s candidates need to get separation from the president as November looms.

Bannon emphatically disagreed.

“You’re not going to be able to hide Trump. The opposition is going to force this anyway. … You have to go all-in. If you try to go in half-baked, it’s not going to work,” he said. He insisted, against the conventional wisdom, that this approach could make Republican candidates competitive even in districts carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Edie Falco to play Hillary Clinton in Clinton impeachment series White House defends Biden's 'Neanderthal thinking' remark on masks MORE in 2016.

Bannon’s recommendations have already drawn opposition, even in conservative circles. The Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial earlier this week that “the Bannon strategy is an incitement to Democrats to vote in precisely the places where House Republicans are most vulnerable.”

This assessment drew snorting derision from Bannon, who accused the Journal and other “old-style” Republicans of believing a “fantasy” that prosaic promises of reforming Congress would bring voters to the polls. Only Trump could do that, he said.

But he reserved even greater scorn for the fundraising and political network around the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, Charles and David. (David Koch has recently retired from his business and political commitments.)

Trump came in for harsh criticism from Charles Koch over the weekend for his trade policies. Bannon is hitting back.

Bannon argued the Koch network had lost some of its biggest donors after backing a number of losing candidates during the 2012 election cycle.

Now, he alleged, it was run by “con artists.”

“The Koch network is a conscious scam,” he insisted. “It’s an open secret in conservative circles that they are a scam, OK? And that’s why no big donors are with them anymore. They are fleecing these smaller donors … because these guys haven’t gotten the word. But it’s a total scam.”

Bannon also insisted, “Those aren’t donors. Those are marks. This is a con job.”

James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, responded: “We just had our largest summer seminar ever with more than 500 attendees. Our discussion focused on uniting the country to help remove barriers that are preventing people from reaching their potential. Toward that end, we look forward to working with anyone whenever possible, to help people improve their lives.”

If Bannon’s opprobrium for the Koch network is particularly sharp, it is only part of a broader picture in which he argues that the GOP has not yet changed to reflect the enthusiasm for Trump among the party’s base.

“The apparatus — the donor class — by and large I think still opposes President Trump, particularly the larger donors,” he complained.

Who in the Senate, he added, could really be counted upon to understand Trump’s agenda? 

Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonRepublicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks MORE, Sen. [David] Purdue,” he began, answering his own question. “Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers House sets vote for George Floyd police reform bill MORE — on some days. Maybe Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCrenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4 MORE and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks Biden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE on other days. But it’s on one hand and usually two or three digits.”

As for Ryan, the soon-to-be-ex-Speaker: “He’s a lame duck. What’s he even around for?” 

A Ryan spokesperson declined to comment.

Some of this animus, on both sides, undoubtedly stems from the 2016 election, where the GOP establishment initially reacted to Trump’s candidacy with disdain and horror.

Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster MORE, the great Mitch McConnell!” Bannon exclaimed sarcastically, going on to list candidates favored by the Senate majority leader who were struggling to win reelection in 2016. He cited Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrRick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-N.C.), Roy Blount (R-Mo.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senate relief package earmarks B for global coronavirus response MORE (R-Wis.) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.).

McConnell "wouldn’t have been majority leader if it was not for Donald Trump. Donald Trump dragged ‘em all across the finish line at the end,” he said.

Bannon favors a House Freedom Caucus figure like Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanHillary Clinton brings up 'Freedom Fries' to mock 'cancel culture' Republicans call for hearing on Biden's handling of border surge Jim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' MORE (R-Ohio) or Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (R-N.C.) as Ryan’s replacement atop the House GOP conference.

Even those congressmen, whose loyalty to Trump is unquestioned, might not quite match Bannon’s zest for defending the president even at this most incendiary moments.

He has no problem with Trump’s comments on the clashes between white supremacists and those opposed to them last summer in Charlottesville, Va. Trump caused widespread outrage by referring to “some very fine people on both sides” amid the violence.

“I still support what he said,” says Bannon, insisting that Trump was merely drawing an equivalence between those people who wanted to see Confederate statues covered or removed from the Virginia city and those who wanted them to stay.

In any case, he insisted: “Antifa is just as bad, if not worse, than the quote-unquote fascists that they try to stop.”

As for the child separation issue that more recently convulsed the nation, Bannon took issue with the suggestion that it was a political disaster for Trump.

“No, I don’t think it is at all,” he said. “What he said on the campaign, he’s delivering. There’s no hiding this.”

Referring to the families that were split up, he said, “They’re looking for a better life. There are 7 billion people in this world who would like to come to the United States looking for a better life. It’s not the point. The point is your sovereignty."

The Trump policy caused an international outcry. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time told CNN it “amounts to child abuse.”

To Bannon, “it was a very humane solution” that fell victim to “media hysteria.”

Throughout the interview, Bannon inveighed against “the opposition party media,” a phrase that has long been a favorite of his.

Asked about the president’s reference to the media as the “enemy of the people,” a long harangue followed.

It encompassed everything from the media’s purported failure to call Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPhilly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans MORE (D-Mass.) out on “cultural appropriation” that is “sickening” — a reference to her claim of Native American heritage — to their alleged blaming of Trump for the gun attack on an Annapolis, Md., newspaper in June that left five people dead. 

The alleged killer, in that instance, was a man who appears to have had a long-standing grudge against the publication.

”That’s not Donald Trump’s problem,” according to Bannon.

As to the incendiary "enemy of the people" tag, which Trump’s daughter Ivanka dissented from on Thursday, Bannon argued barbs from the media aimed at Trump’s supporters are just as bad.

“Certain members of the mainstream media have gone out to vilify and to demonize and to call people racists and call them xenophobes and call them nativists, OK?” Bannon said.

“When you go out and do that, day in and day out, week in and week out, then what are you? That’s a populist movement. Those are the people, right? So what are you? Are you a friend of them, you’re an ally to them, you’re neutral to them or you’re [an] enemy to them? You have to look upon yourselves.”

There is more — much more — in that vein.

Bannon may no longer be the central player he once was — and he dismisses as “ridiculous” the idea that he would ever seek elected office.

But he’s not going anywhere.

“I’m a street fighter,” he says.

He’s spoiling for more fights to come.