Trump v Bannon: ‘The Battle of the Blowhards’

Frenemies: Trump was reportedly annoyed at the credit Bannon got for his electoral win. © Getty

Could Steve Bannon bring down Donald Trump? A book has published Bannon’s criticism of the administration he used to work for. It has triggered a dramatic — and very public — falling out.

The dust has barely settled on Donald Trump’s fiery exchange with Kim Jong-un, and already he is caught up in another war of words.

His adversary this time: Steve Bannon, his former aide. The trigger was a new book about the president by journalist Michael Wolff, excerpts of which appeared in the media this week. Wolff makes many sensational claims, such as that Melania Trump was in tears (“and not of joy”) when it became clear that her husband had won the election.

Most explosive of all are a handful of quotes from Bannon. He is reported as saying that a meeting between top Trump advisers (including the president’s son) and Russians was “treasonous”. He predicted that financial crimes by these advisers could help the FBI’s Russia inquiry. “They’re going to crack Don junior like an egg on national TV,” he told Wolff.

These comments infuriated Trump, who released a statement on Wednesday. “When [Steve Bannon] was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” it read. Trump’s lawyers then warned that Bannon had committed slander and violated non-disclosure agreements. They are now seeking to stop the book’s release.

This spat, dubbed “The Battle of the Blowhards”, is striking — after all, Bannon is one of Trump’s closest ideological allies. As the president’s chief strategist, he orchestrated some of the administration’s key policies, such as the travel ban. Yet his aggressive style angered many in the White House, including Trump’s children, and in August he was forced out.

Bannon returned to his old job managing the far-right Breitbart News. He remained close to the president, even as he declared his intention to run candidates against every Republican in this year’s midterm elections. But his credibility took a hit in December’s Alabama by-election, when he convinced Trump to back Roy Moore, who lost.

Already hated by mainstream Republicans, Bannon has now made an enemy of Trump too. His comments to Wolff have hurt the president. Which blowhard will win this battle?

Thar they blow

Trump, say some. Although he was once described as the “true president”, Bannon has lost most of his influence — as Moore’s defeat shows. What he told Wolff were just the bitter words of a defeated man. What’s more, questions are being asked about Wolff’s honesty as a reporter. Trump has survived far bigger scandals than this. He’ll be fine.

Don’t be so sure, reply others. Bannon is still very popular among Trump fans, many of whom read Breitbart. And as a former White House insider, he has all the dirt on the president and others. Wolff’s quotes hint at the sort of damage he could inflict. The president should call a truce; if not, Bannon may be his downfall.

You Decide

  1. Will Trump complete his term as president?
  2. What is the difference between criticism and insult?

Activities

  1. Read the BBC’s article in Become An Expert. Rank the 11 claims according to how important you think they are.
  2. Write a short story or an essay imagining what would happen if Bannon became president.

Some People Say...

“Darkness is good… Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

Steve Bannon

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Michael Wolff is a well-known political biographer and columnist in the USA. He has drawn controversy by attacking prominent public figures in his punchy, sometimes gossipy, writing. Fire and Fury is apparently based on over 200 interviews. Bannon, who spoke to Wolff for the book, has reacted to the controversy by simply praising Trump as “a great man” who has his full support.
What do we not know?
How much of the book is true. Some of its claims have already been challenged. For example, Tony Blair, the former UK prime minister, denied that he told Trump aides that the UK might have spied on Trump, as the book asserts. Wolff has been accused of fabricating quotes and reports in the past. That said, neither Trump nor Bannon has denied the words attributed to Bannon.

Word Watch

Fiery exchange
After Kim warned that “The button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” Trump replied that he has “a much bigger & more powerful” button.
New book
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is released by Little, Brown on January 9th in the UK.
Treasonous
“Treason” is the crime of betraying one’s country. In June 2016, it has been reported, Donald Trump junior and others met with a Russian lawyer, who claimed to work for the Russian government and possess incriminating material on Hillary Clinton. The meeting was kept secret for a long time afterwards.
Could help
Bannon seems to suggest that the FBI will find evidence of criminal business practices by Trump’s aides, then use that to pressure them into cooperating with its Russia probe. It appears to be using this tactic with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.
Blowhards
American slang for boastful egomaniacs.
Midterm elections
This November most seats in the US Congress will be up for election.
By-election
A one-off election triggered by a legislator’s resignation or death, known in the USA as a special election.

Subjects

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