Bannon, In Rare Interview, Discusses Trump, Charlottesville, Nationalism
With rumors about his job security continuing to swirl, Stephen K. Bannon gave a rare and wide-ranging interview this week in which the chief White House strategist appeared to break from the president’s stance on North Korea, spoke about “economic war with China” and dismissed the far-right fringe as “a collection of clowns.”
The interview was published on Wednesday by the progressive magazine The American Prospect — an unexpected place for an interview with Bannon, given that before joining the Trump campaign in 2016 he spent more than four years running Breitbart News. Bannon has described the conservative news site as a “platform for the alt-right.”
In his interview with the columnist Robert Kuttner, Bannon was asked about President Donald Trump’s reluctance to condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who converged on Charlottesville last weekend — and about the connection between his views and support for economic nationalism and the violence that resulted in one death and at least 30 injuries.
“Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers,” said Bannon. “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.”
“The Democrats,” he continued, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Kuttner wrote that it was puzzling to him that Bannon would speak to him, a writer and editor at a progressive publication, and said there was no discussion about the conversation being off the record. Bannon reportedly told associates he didn’t mean for the conversation to be an on-the-record interview, according to a report Wednesday in Axios. The site quoted one of Bannon’s colleagues, saying “This is DEFCON 1-level bad.”
On the issue of North Korea, Trump has threatened the regime in Pyongyang with “fire and fury,” but Bannon told Kuttner that there was “no military solution” to the nation’s nuclear threats.
“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul [South Korea’s capital] 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,” Bannon said.
According to The American Prospect, Bannon went on to warn about the American trade relationship with China.
“To me, the economic war with China is everything,” Bannon said. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.
The interview — one of two by Bannon over the last 48 hours, according to Politico — comes at a precarious moment for Bannon, as media reports signal that his critics are increasingly pressing for his exit from the White House.
Asked on Tuesday whether he still had confidence in his chief strategist, Trump downplayed Bannon’s role in his electoral victory, while saying he was a good person.
“I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine,” Trump said at a press conference in Trump Tower. “He is not a racist, I can tell you that.”
Trump left Bannon’s job security ambiguous, saying, “He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
This isn’t the first time Bannon’s position in the administration has been considered in jeopardy. As the FRONTLINE documentary Bannon’s War details, he was sidelined in April after months of media coverage in which he was portrayed as the brains behind Trump’s rise to the White House, the puppet master and “the great manipulator.” The situation culminated with Bannon losing his seat on the National Security Council.