White House chief strategist Steve Bannon hasn’t done much press in the seven months (god, it hasn’t even been a year) of the Trump presidency, preferring to stand back and admire the racist blaze—which he’s fanned since his Breitbart days—now raging its way across the country. Why bother, really, when the president readily spouts white supremacist talking points and can dog whistle with the best of them? Many commentators and journalists have chalked up Bannon’s reticence to his savviness, though ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci did offer up an alternate theory for what Bannon was actually doing with his mouth. But a new interview in The American Prospect undermines one of those suppositions while bolstering the other.
If you’re unfamiliar with The American Prospect, it’s a progressive publication that has released cover stories emblazoned with the words “Resisting Trump” and “Containing Trump.” So, at first glance, it looks more like the kind of publication Bannon would be trying to shut down than have a sitdown with. But the man slowly turning into a full-body scab did just that, reaching out to Prospect reporter Robert Kuttner to praise him on a recent piece about Trump and North Korea. Bannon was so eager to speak with Kuttner that he accepted a phone interview despite having requested a face-to-face meeting. In his excitement to gush about the article—in which Kuttner wrote that “In Kim, Trump has met his match. The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange is more serious than at any time since October 1962”—Bannon never asked to keep anything off the record.
Having apparently learned nothing from the Mooch, Bannon talked military and economic strategy with Kuttner, showing all the chumminess he might otherwise reserve for his white supremacist friends on D.W. Griffith movie night. Bannon bragged about his position in the Trump administration, saying his rivals in the State and Defense departments are “wetting themselves,” though he didn’t reveal whether their anxiety was over being in his crosshairs; being on the brink of nuclear war; being a part of an administration with a record low approval rating; or just balking at the idea of taking a harder stance against China, which seems to be at the top of Bannon’s list of enemies. The chief strategist waves off concerns over war with North Korea, telling Kuttner that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
The race war he seemed to be gunning for all along also holds little interest for Bannon these days. “Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more,” Bannon said. “These guys are a collection of clowns.” Instead, Bannon wants to take the fight to China. As he told Kuttner: “To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
Bannon then outlined his plan for sanctions against China, without ever once asking the journalist he went to lengths to speak with to keep any of his comments off the record. Apparently, Bannon perceives China as such a huge threat—presumably because there are even more people of color there—that he’s willing to bring the left and right together to impose tough trade sanctions.
Traffic to the bombshell interview has been crashing the American Prospect site since it was published, but other sites have been tracking the reaction to it from Bannon’s colleagues. Axios’ Jonathan Swan spoke with some of Trump officials who say they didn’t know about the interview, and neither did Bannon, who we have to remind you has up until this point been commended for avoiding the press. Trump hasn’t weighed in on Bannon’s comments, but as one of his colleagues told Swan, “Since Steve apparently enjoys casually undermining U.S. national security, I’ll put this in terms he’ll understand: This is DEFCON 1-level bad.”