White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon's Job May Be In Jeopardy
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Now there are more members of Congress calling for Steve Bannon to be removed from the White House. The leaders of four House caucuses have written a letter to President Trump asking him to remove Bannon, the chief White House strategist, along with two other advisers, Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka. In the letter, the heads of the Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Progressive Caucuses say Bannon's presence emboldens white supremacists.
This is happening alongside an ideological battle playing out inside the White House on what Trumpism ultimately means. On one side of the fight is Bannon. On the other side, the president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. General McMaster came up through a military culture that believes America sometimes has a duty to intervene in foreign wars.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
By contrast, Bannon's politics are defined by a populist nationalism. When Bannon was executive chairman of Breitbart News, he once called it the platform for the alt-right. The publication praised white supremacist Richard Spencer as an intellectual. As host of the radio program "Breitbart News Daily," Bannon tied white nationalist fears to anti-Islamist notions here in the summer of 2016.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "BREITBART NEWS DAILY")
STEVE BANNON: They will not criticize Islam. The president of the United States will not criticize Islam. Mrs. Clinton will not criticize Islam. Do you get a sense that the media in the West, and I mean in London and in the United States, is almost working under the precepts of Sharia law right now?
CHANG: Steve Bannon's world view seemed ascendant when he landed a top position in the Trump White House. Because he has long had the ear of the president, when President Trump waited two days to specifically condemn violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, many saw the hand of Steve Bannon.
GREENE: Now, back to the war in the White House, recently Breitbart took to publishing a string of stories targeting H.R. McMaster. And many see the hand of Bannon there as well. But President Trump insisted last week that he supports McMaster.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And do you have full confidence in your national security adviser?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, I do. General McMaster, absolutely. He's our friend. He's my friend. And he's a very talented man. I like him, and I respect him.
GREENE: On NBC's "Meet The Press" this weekend, H.R. McMaster couldn't say whether he could work with Steve Bannon when he was pressed by host Chuck Todd.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
CHUCK TODD: You didn't answer, can you and Steve Bannon work in the same White House?
H R MCMASTER: I am ready to work with anybody who will help advance the president's agenda and advance the security, prosperity of the American people.
TODD: Do you believe Steve Bannon does that?
MCMASTER: I believe that everyone who works in the White House, who has the privilege, the great privilege every day of serving their nation should be motivated by that goal.
CHANG: Well, we have a confidant of Bannon on the line with us now. Chris Buskirk, who runs the publication American Greatness, knows Bannon well and speaks to him regularly. Thank you so much for joining us.
CHRIS BUSKIRK: It's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
CHANG: So is it McMaster or Bannon who's on the way out right now?
BUSKIRK: I think there's only one person who really knows the answer to that, and that's the president of the United States. And the answer may be neither. What we have seen from President Trump throughout his career is that he likes to have debates within his staff. He did this in his own private businesses, seems to be doing that again in the White House.
And then he makes a decision based upon hearing the counsel from different points of view. I think that may be difficult to watch from the outside but ultimately, may be healthy for coming to a better decision.
CHANG: Do you believe Bannon was responsible for planting stories about McMaster in Breitbart and other outlets?
BUSKIRK: No, I think Breitbart operates independently of Steve Bannon at this point. I mean, obviously, he has had a long ongoing relationship with Breitbart for many years. Was he planting stories? Not that I know of. What I have seen though, and I can tell you I've seen it firsthand, is that when national security adviser McMaster fired three people, Ezra Cohen and Rich Higgins among them, that that generated a lot of consternation among the grassroots on the right, whether it be Breitbart or The Daily Caller, some of the other sort of grassroots websites that are out there.
People saw that as very troubling. It didn't take somebody to plant a story. There was a natural groundswell of antipathy towards those moves. People who were wondering, you know, is this McMaster who's moving against Trump loyalists, against people who have supported - from day one who've supported Trump's agenda of reducing this country's participation in unnecessary foreign wars?
That seems to be the debate that's playing out inside the White House, which is a skepticism, on the one hand, of military adventurism...
BUSKIRK: ...And a longer term philosophy that has held that the United States needs to have a big military footprint abroad.
CHANG: But do you think Bannon is now actually the target of some calculated counteroffensive by McMaster? Do you get that sense?
BUSKIRK: Well, I get the - it's certainly - I don't know if it's McMaster or not, but I think there's no doubt the people who cue to the McMaster line, the sort of more globalist line, are those people pushing back against Bannon? There's no doubt about it. There was, you know, we had a week or a week and a half of stories that were coming up. You mentioned some in Breitbart that were targeting McMaster for criticism.
We're now seeing basically a media counteroffensive of people who are trying to hit out at Bannon. Why? Because they think if they can isolate Bannon, if they can get - if they can separate Bannon from the president that they'll - that by doing that, they'll weaken the president because that will separate him from his base.
CHANG: If Bannon leaves the White House eventually, what consequences do you think Trump would suffer?
BUSKIRK: Well, I think it - obviously, it depends on the circumstances. If it was his decision, then probably none. But if he was pushed out, if he was forced out or fired precipitously by the president, I think that that would dangerously undermine the president's support with his base. You know, I've thought about this quite a bit.
And because what we really see in McMaster and Bannon are avatars for a debate that's going on on the right, you know - what should conservatism be, what should Republicanism be? - if Bannon is forced out by the opposing forces, I think that forcing Bannon out actually becomes more dangerous to a successful presidency than, say, Robert Mueller's investigation.
CHANG: All right. Chris Buskirk is close to the Trump White House and a confidant of Steve Bannon. He's the editor and publisher of the publication American Greatness. Thanks for being with us.
BUSKIRK: It's my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.