How Steve Bannon pulled one of the greatest upsets in American politics

How did Steve Bannon become a prominent nationalist, conservative voice who helped create one of the biggest upsets in American politics? In his new book “Devil’s Bargain,” Joshua Green offers an inside look at the relationship and political partnership between President Trump and his controversial adviser. Green joins Judy Woodruff for a closer look.

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    Finally tonight: an inside look at the relationship and the political partnership between President Trump and his controversial adviser Steve Bannon.

    In Joshua Green's new book, "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency," he examines how Bannon became a prominent nationalist conservative voice that helped create one of the biggest upsets in American politics.

    Green is also a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, and he joins me now.

    Welcome to the NewsHour.

    JOSHUA GREEN, Author, "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency": Thank you.


    So, Josh Green, you start the book out saying Donald Trump wouldn't be president if it weren't for Steve Bannon.

    In a nutshell, who is Steve Bannon?


    Bannon is a guy who is very much an outsider like Donald Trump is.

    And although he doesn't come from money — he was raised in a blue-collar Navy family in Richmond, Virginia — he has the same basic outlook toward life and toward elites that Donald Trump developed.

    Bannon has a very unusual background. He joined the Navy. He went from the Navy to Harvard Business School. He talked his way into a job with Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the 1980s, and moved from there to Hollywood film financing, and eventually became a conservative documentarian, met the late conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart, and wound up in charge of Breitbart News, the right-wing news site.


    So, what brings these two men together? Are they the ideological, philosophically similar people some might think? What is the magic that brings them together?


    I think the magic that brings them together is that they have the same basic political outlook.

    If you look at Trump and what he said about politics going all the way back to the 1980s, there have been several clear populist themes. He is against free trade. He thinks the U.S. is getting taken advantage of by foreign governments.

    Bannon's populism is very much the same, but he adds the element of immigration, hostility to immigrants, both legal and illegal. And when Bannon met Trump in 2011 and began tutoring him on politics, that was the idea that he really put forward.

    And if you look at the politician Donald Trump became, it's very much a reflection of Steve Bannon's politics.


    Is this — so, is this something that's driven by being against outsiders?


    It really is.

    It's driven by the idea that the country is in decline and needs to fundamentally return to an earlier time, when people like Steve Bannon were at the heart of the American economy and American story, so the 1950s, when you had a strong manufacturing base, when there were — it was clear, the forces of good and evil in the world, communism vs. democracy.

    Both Trump and Bannon don't like the rise of the younger, multiethnic generations of Americans that the Obama coalition reflected, and are doing everything they can to fight against it.


    So, speaking of that, what we have read about Steve Bannon, Breitbart, elements of racism, the so-called alt-right movement, even anti-Semitism, how much of that is a strain here?


    It's a big strain.

    And one of the effects that Bannon had on politics was to open up a kind of sluice gate of people who existed really only on the fringes of American and far-right talk radio and on Internet boards and try and bring them into the political conversation, the mainstream political conversation, by giving them a voice on places like Breitbart News.

    And what Bannon thought he was doing was marshaling these hidden political forces to go up against not Democrats, but the establishment Republican leaders, people like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and, before him, House Speaker John Boehner, who was Bannon's original target and was forced to resign in 2015, in part because of the energies that Bannon and Breitbart News unleashed in Washington politics.


    OK, on just as straight a measurement as you can, how successful has Steve Bannon been in getting his ideas across in this administration?


    Well, it would be hard to argue that Bannon hasn't been shockingly successful overall.

    If you go back three years — and I tell this story in the book — Steve Bannon was very closely allied with Jeff Sessions, who, at the time, was the populist Republican senator from Alabama.

    And Bannon tried to talk Sessions into running for president, not because he thought he could win, but because he thought Sessions could elevate the issues of immigration and antipathy to free trade to the top of the Republican agenda.

    And Sessions ultimately decided not to do that. But by linking up with Donald Trump, Bannon was able to not only get that on top of the Republican agenda, but make it all the way into the White House and have real power to enact some of these policies, in a way that he never did as a conservative publisher.


    Is Bannon involved in the Russian probe?


    So far, he seems not to be directly implicated.

    I know he hasn't hired a lawyer, as many people in the Trump family and the Trump administration have to defend them against potential investigation. So, as far as we know, Bannon is not yet implicated in the Russia scandal.


    But you have reported, I know, in, I guess, language that we can't use here, that Bannon is interested in smearing Robert Mueller as much as he can.


    Well, if you look at what Steve Bannon really does for Donald Trump, going all the way back to the beginning of their relationship, it isn't that he's a Machiavellian figure, as he's been portrayed.

    It's that Steve Bannon is the guy who goes out and attacks Trump's critics and his enemies, whether that's someone like Megyn Kelly at FOX News, or the mainstream media after Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape was released on the eve of the debates.

    Right now, Trump feels like he needs someone aggressively defending him in the Russia probe. And he wasn't happy with the way that his own White House spokespeople were doing the job.


    If you look at the polls right now, in — I guess, in large part, Donald Trump seems to be holding on to his base, but there is some evidence of slippage.

    And you have got, what, 40 percent of Americans with a strong opposition to Donald Trump. If it continues this way, does Steve Bannon stay where he is?


    I think it does, because Bannon and Trump both seem to believe that it is absolutely vital to keep Trump's base angry and riled up and active.

    And there is some pretty interesting polling data to indicate that that's working. The Washington Post/ABC had a poll that came out this week saying that only 9 percent of Republicans thought that the Russia collusion posed any sort of problem.

    And, to me, that's an indication that Bannon's methods are working. And while he hasn't gotten Trump anywhere near a majority of popular support, he has managed to maintain that critical 40 percent base that Trump is going to rely on.


    Well, Josh Green, nobody else has gotten this deep a look at Steve Bannon. So, thank you very much.

    "Devil's Bargain" is the book, "Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency."

    Thank you very much.


    Thanks so much for having me.

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