Nothing gets the schadenfreude going like a good schoolyard fight between two raging egos.
Trump on Wednesday castigated his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon as a self-aggrandizing political charlatan who has “lost his mind,” marking an abrupt and furious rupture with the onetime confidant that could have lasting political impact on the November midterms and beyond.
The White House’s sharp public break with Bannon, which came in response to unflattering comments Bannon made about Trump and his family in a new book about his presidency, left the self-fashioned populist alienated from his chief patron and even more isolated in his attempts to remake the Republican Party by backing insurgent candidates.
Late Wednesday, lawyers for Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to Bannon, arguing he violated the employment agreement he signed with the Trump Organization in numerous ways and also likely defamed the president. They ordered that he stop communicating either confidential and or disparaging information, and preserve all records in preparation for “imminent” legal action.
“You have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company, disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company,” read the letter from lawyer Charles Harder.
In a lengthy statement issued in the afternoon, Trump blamed Bannon — his former campaign manager and chief strategist who now heads the conservative Breitbart News website — for everything from leaks to the news media to the upset GOP loss in last month’s Senate race in Alabama. The president cast Bannon as a disgruntled former staffer whose chief goal is to stir up trouble.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” the statement said. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
The White House also released a statement from the first lady’s office condemning the forthcoming book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by Michael Wolff as a title to be found in the “bargain fiction” bin, while the Republican National Committee said Wolff has “a long history of making stuff up.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, devoted much of her Wednesday news briefing Wednesday to disputing Wolff’s claims and seeking to undermine Bannon’s credibility.
The response was a marked departure from mid-October, when Trump called Bannon “a friend of mine” and said he understood his perspective.
But the much anticipated account of life in Trump’s White House caught the president and his West Wing team off-guard, with the president huddling with White House communications director Hope Hicks, one of his most trusted advisers, and Sanders to craft the fiery statement, after calling friends for much of the morning. Aides thought they had more time to prepare for the book’s formal release.
Trump spent much of the day raging about the book to top aides, officials and advisers said, and Sanders described the president as “furious” and “disgusted.” As he fumed, some aides were still frantically searching for a copy of the book, and even senior aides such as Hicks had not seen it by the afternoon, officials said.
“He’s out of control,” one person with knowledge of Trump’s comments said. This person added that the president had been in an upbeat mood for much of Tuesday, continuing to brag about last month’s passage of the Republican tax bill even as he fired off combative tweets.
New York magazine has an excerpt from the book in which Trump never expected to win the election and was stunned — like the rest of us — when he actually did.
Most presidential candidates spend their entire careers, if not their lives from adolescence, preparing for the role. They rise up the ladder of elected offices, perfect a public face, and prepare themselves to win and to govern. The Trump calculation, quite a conscious one, was different. The candidate and his top lieutenants believed they could get all the benefits of almost becoming president without having to change their behavior or their worldview one whit. Almost everybody on the Trump team, in fact, came with the kind of messy conflicts bound to bite a president once he was in office. Michael Flynn, the retired general who served as Trump’s opening act at campaign rallies, had been told by his friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. “Well, it would only be a problem if we won,” Flynn assured them.
Not only did Trump disregard the potential conflicts of his own business deals and real-estate holdings, he audaciously refused to release his tax returns. Why should he? Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary. His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared would be international celebrities. Steve Bannon would become the de facto head of the tea-party movement. Kellyanne Conway would be a cable-news star. Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.
And that’s when the smiles turn into fixed grins as is the realization that we’ve got someone who has no more business running the country than a six-year-old does driving a semi. Nothing’s going to get him to let go of the wheel voluntarily even if we’re heading for a cliff. And what this will do to relationships with the rest of the world is scary because even once Trump leaves office, our allies are going to be wary of a country that would elect someone like him to office after the presumed maturity of electing Barack Obama. Can we be trusted not to go batshit crazy again?
So enjoy the infighting while we can, but remember that we have a country to run and a world to keep safe.