Andrew Ricci, Vice President, LEVICK
They say that breaking up is hard to do. So wrote Neil Sedaka more than half a century ago, and so we are seeing with the latest news out of a West Wing whose drama eclipses that of even the best scripted or reality shows.
When The Guardian broke news this morning with excerpts from Michael Wolff’s yet-to-be-released book in which former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon described the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 campaign as “treasonous,” the first shots were fired and the break up process was started.
It wasn’t long before the President of the United States made it official in his customary way of disparaging, and attempting to discredit anyone who questions his authority. “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” he wrote. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” This is an epic divorce and both parties have gone nuclear. There’s a lot that has been written on this topic in the ensuing hours and much more will inevitably be written yet.
During the White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders portrayed the entire book as “filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House.” However, we have yet to see anyone claim that they were falsely quoted or deny their comments and allegations. This includes Bannon himself, who much of today’s coverage has focused on, as well as former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and current Administration officials Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, and others – all of whom made remarks disparaging all aspects of the president’s character and intellect. This silence, to me, speaks volumes.
Last night, after the President tweeted that he would be announcing “THE MOST HONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR” next week, I tweeted a theory that something big was about to break, and the President knew it. That’s quite a long tease for such a wanton act of theater, and it’s a classic tactic from the crisis playbook to try to seize control of a narrative before someone else can do it, especially if you know something is coming down the pike. This may have been it, but I would bet this is the first in a series of damaging events that are going to unfold over the next couple of days. Trying to discredit the media is nothing new for the current administration, but doing so in such a grandiose act of political dramaturgy has to presage a method to the madness. If he understands nothing else, this president innately understands theatrics and showmanship, and he has weaponized it well.
One of the biggest questions for me through all of this, though, is what is Steve Bannon’s end game here? It’s hard to imagine, given the amount of time it takes to write a book like this and the access that Wolff is reported to have had within the White House, that the comments were made as a result of bad blood lingering from the Alabama Senate Race, in which Bannon and Trump backed competing candidates. Were that the case, it could easily be interpreted as Bannon trying to maintain relevancy and some modicum of power in the face of defeat. But these interviews long predate the special election in Alabama and presumably go back to seemingly happier times when Bannon and Trump were engaged in a bromance for the ages.
So, I keep asking myself, not so much why now, but why at all? Until we hear from Bannon, who will inevitably speak about this, we can only guess. In the meantime, the world will be glued to their TVs and breaking news alerts for the latest in this messy breakup. After all, we’ve long been told that breaking up is hard to do.