Stephen Bannon's olive branch said to be too late for angry Trump

US President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon apologised for his comments in controversial book Fire And Fury, but it may not be enough to repair ties between the two men.
US President Donald Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon apologised for his comments in controversial book Fire And Fury, but it may not be enough to repair ties between the two men.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Stephen Bannon's apology for his comments trashing Mr Donald Trump's family did little to tamp down the President's anger at his former chief strategist, as aides describe the President demanding a stark choice from supporters of both men: You're either with Bannon, or with me. 

Mr Trump's aides are tracking who came out with full-throated criticism of Mr Bannon over the weekend, and they put out the word that the President is keeping score. 

Mr Trump remains irritated over losing the first week of the year to titillating excerpts from the book Fire And Fury by Michael Wolff, which is focused on the President and his dysfunctional White House.

One person who was judged as being insufficiently critical of Mr Bannon was Mr David Bossie, president of Citizens United. On Friday night, Mr Bossie came out with a forceful condemnation of Mr Bannon, his long-time friend, in an op-ed in the Washington Post. 

Mr Bannon may have hoped his apology would begin to put the episode behind him. A half dozen sources describe almost the exact opposite: Mr Trump remains angry at the disloyalty of his former strategist, and is forcing a him-or-me moment inside Trump World and the Republican Party as a whole. 

"I don't know if it's ever repairable," said Mr Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who has been friends with Mr Bannon for two decades. "These wounds are pretty deep."

'Delusional Opinion'

The implications for Mr Trump's agenda are stark: At a moment when he needs maximum coordination to push through infrastructure, welfare reform and funding for the US-Mexico border wall, he's at war with the leader of the party's activist base - the very voters who propelled Mr Trump to the White House in 2016. 

Mr Bannon's lengthy apology followed days of scorching responses from the President, both in public and privately to aides, to comments attributed to Mr Bannon in Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House.

 
 

It also comes after key financial backers Rebekah Mercer and Sheldon Adelson cut ties, and questions simmered about Mr Bannon's continued role at Breitbart, the conservative news website.

These could doom his efforts to oust mainstream Republican incumbents in Congress and replace them with nationalist or anti-establishment alternatives. And those very mainstream GOP lawmakers, furious among other things at Mr Bannon's role in a losing the senate campaign in Alabama in December, won't shed any tears.

"He may or may not know it, but the only way he is relevant to anyone other than the people he pays is if Trump lets him be," said Mr Fred Brown, a crisis communications strategist and former GOP spokesman.

"The fact that Bannon was dumb enough to make people choose between him and the president shows he has a more delusional opinion of himself than even Trump does."

'Stable Genius'

Michael Wolff's explosive book, publication of which was moved up four days to Jan 5 despite - or because of - a cease-and-desist order from Mr Trump, asserts that many of the President's own top advisers think the former New York real estate developer is unfit to serve.

Mr Trump, 71, who on Saturday declared himself a "very stable genius" in a tweet and later held a press conference at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland to drive the point home, said Mr Bannon had "lost his mind" after being forced out of the White House in August.

 

The President has minimised Mr Bannon's role in Mr Trump's 2016 election win, characterised him as self-interested and destructive, and nicknamed him "Sloppy Steve". At the same time, Mr Trump denounced Wolff's book as "fiction", as well as "really boring".

On Sunday, he bemoaned a "Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author". While Mr Trump is known for resuming ties with former advisers he has ousted, Mr Bannon's transgressions cut so close to the nerve that they probably can't be reversed.

As of Sunday evening, no one from the White House had directly reached out to Mr Bannon since the fallout, three people familiar with the matter said.

'Out Of Touch'

White House officials instructed television surrogates over the weekend to swing harder at Mr Bannon, noting that Mr Trump would be watching. Among those following the order to the letter was senior adviser Stephen Miller, who said Mr Bannon's comments were "vindictive" and "out of touch with reality" and that his importance to the campaign and administration had been greatly exaggerated. Mr Miller was once among those most closely aligned with Mr Bannon.

Wolff's book says Mr Bannon labelled as "treasonous" Mr Donald Trump Jr's and Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner's 2016 meeting with Russian nationals, held in an attempt to dig up dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton, and called Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka "dumb as a brick".

Mr Bannon also predicted in the book that the special counsel investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia would "crack" Mr Trump Jr "like an egg on national TV". In his apology on Sunday, Mr Bannon didn't specifically deny the comments.

 

In the apology, Mr Bannon said his support for the President and for Mr Trump's agenda was "unwavering," and that his comments about the Russian meeting were aimed at Mr Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort rather than Mr Trump's son, whom he described as "both a patriot and a good man".

Wolff refuted Mr Bannon’s statement in an interview with MSNBC Monday (Jan 8), saying that Sunday’s statement from Mr Bannon does not reflect what he said at the time.

“It was not directed at Manafort, it was directed directly at Don Jr.,” Wolff said. “I like Steve, I’m grateful” for the time and insights he gave him for the book, Wolff said.

But the author reiterated that he doesn’t believe Mr Trump is fit to be president because he is interested in “just himself” and “his immediate gratification.”

Mr Corey Lewandowski, who preceded Mr Manafort as campaign manager, said on Fox News Sunday that "I can't justify what Steve said". If what Mr Bannon was reported to have said was accurate, he owes "the entire Trump family" an apology.

At the same time, Mr Lewandowski, who himself has floated in and out of Mr Trump's orbit over the past two years, suggested a path for Mr Bannon's rehabilitation.

"If Steve Bannon wants to get on the Trump team and join with the President to make sure that we hold the House in 2018, and we hold the Senate or expand our majority, then he'll be welcome to do that," Mr Lewandowski offered.

"But if you want to run an agenda which is antithetical to the President's agenda, then there's no place in the Republican Party for you because Donald Trump is the head of the Republican Party."

 

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