The Slatest

Steve Bannon Gives an “Interview” That Makes Him Look Suspiciously Sane

White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 20.

AFP/Getty Images

In a bizarre twist in the Steve Bannon White House puppet master narrative, Bannon called up the editor of the liberal magazine the American Prospect on Tuesday afternoon and proceeded to give him what appears to be his unvarnished opinion on many things. On the other end of the line was Robert Kuttner, who then proceeded to write a story about his 25-minute conversation with one of the key, but elusive, figures in the Trump White House. As Kuttner tells it, Bannon called him apparently following up on a column Kuttner had written on how China was profiting from the U.S. and North Korea’s nuclear squabbles.

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The interview reads like an off-the-record conversation caught on the record. Immediately White House watchers asked: How could the media-savvy Bannon been so careless? How could he commit such a gaffe? It’s a narrative that a few timely unsourced quotes in Axios about Bannon being shocked—yes, shocked—that when he called a journalist on the phone to discuss U.S. policy, the journalist wrote about it. Shocked!

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Let’s pump the brakes for a second and take a look at the crux of what Bannon said:

White Supremacists Are Bad and Need to Be Crushed

“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.” “These guys are a collection of clowns,” he added.

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Unhinged Nuclear Saber-Rattling Won’t Work with North Korea:

“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.”

How Bannon Fights “Every Day” in the White House for the U.S. to Finally Take on China Economically:

“To me,” Bannon said, “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.”

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Bannon’s plan of attack includes: a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. “We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”

“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”

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“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”

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To recap: During a stretch where the president of the United States has stepped in white supremacist quicksand and spoken breezily about nuclear war, Bannon gives an “interview” outside of the normal mélange of media outlets, and well beyond the far-right press. In that interview Bannon frames himself as explicitly anti–white supremacist and against unhinged and unproductive nuclear saber-rattling, while painting himself as the true voice of the American worker in the White House fighting to get big bad Goldman banker types to, at last, take on China.

And you thought Steve Bannon didn’t know the interview was on the record?

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