Steve Bannon Says He Is President Trump's 'Wingman' During Blustery '60 Minutes' Interview

If President Donald J. Trump watched watched "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, he must have been pleased. Stephen K. Bannon delivered a blustery, forceful defense of Trump and Trumpism, reliving the glory days of the presidential campaign and holding steadfast in his conviction that Trump's presidency would yet accomplish its grandest goals.

Bannon, however, was not speaking as the White House's chief political strategist, a position he relinquished last month, reportedly because of clashes with new chief of staff Gen. John F. Kelly. He promptly returned to helm Breitbart News, the extremist news website he ran before joining the Trump campaign. The interview (Bannon's first on television since leaving the administration) with Charlie Rose was conducted in his Capitol Hill townhouse, known as the Breitbart Embassy because it effectively functions as the site's newsroom.

Bannon vowed "war" on Trump's enemies, and he was plenty bellicose in his conversation with Rose, using the interview as an extended score-settling exercise. He singled out, for example, Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, blaming them for shackling the iconoclastic Trump to hidebound Beltway codes. “I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘Drain the swamp' talk,” he recalled McConnell saying at a Trump Tower meeting days after the election. He said embracing the establishment was the administration's "original sin." He did not, however, explain how that "sin" could have been avoided within the federal system to which even Trump must ultimately adhere.

Indeed, much like the vitriolic articles that sustain Breitbart News, Bannon's attacks on perceived enemies were simplistic and uninformed. Asked by Rose to justify his economic nationalism, Bannon asserted that "what built America is called the American system," a bracingly uninformed statement (not to mention a tautology) made by a man who likes to cast himself as a serious student of history's flows. Later in the conversation, Bannon dismissed the "geniuses of the Bush administration,” a reference to the neoconservatives who ruled Foggy Bottom during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency: "idiots," he called them. He suggested that foreign policy under both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton was no better. Bannon's own ideas include a trade war with China, a nation he luridly accused of "cutting out the beating heart of American innovation." Most economists and foreign policy experts believe such a trade war would be a disaster for the global economy.

Bannon said that he left the White House of his own accord, contradicting reports that he was pushed out. He said he would be more effective outside the White House, working as Trump's "wingman," reminding his foes that "there’s no free shots on goal.” It is not clear, however, how he plans to do that. Breitbart has some influence with the far right, but not beyond that. And while Bannon recently met with Mark Meadows, who heads the far right Freedom Caucus of the House of Representatives, he is unlikely to scare, or persuade, centrist members of the GOP.

Bannon's most insightful comment may have been inadvertent. The man who once promised to "deconstruct" what he called "the administrative state" counseled the president that Washington was a "city of institutions." For all the talk of wars and deconstructions, those institutions have to work. That reminder was more valuable than all of Bannon's grandiose, juvenile bluster.

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