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Steve Bannon Sees #MeToo As An 'Existential Threat' To Trump, Journalist Says

An author described former White House strategist Steve Bannon as "upset" about "the power of this rising women's movement.<em>"</em>
Brynn Anderson
An author described former White House strategist Steve Bannon as "upset" about "the power of this rising women's movement."

Though six months have passed since Steve Bannon left his position as White House chief strategist, he continues to follow the drama inside the Trump administration.

Journalist Joshua Green says the right-wing provocateur is particularly attuned to the #MeToo movement, which he has dubbed "the matriarchy." Green notes that Bannon sees the movement as "an existential threat" not just to President Trump, but also to Republicans in Congress.

"Bannon, despite his many flaws, is a very shrewd analyst of American politics," Green says. "And what he seemed so upset about was the power of this rising women's movement."

The #MeToo movement, begun on social media, aims to show the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

Green profiled Bannon and explained his role in Trump's election in his 2017 book, Devil's Bargain. The paperback release of the book, available Tuesday, describes what Bannon has been doing since leaving the White House.

Interview Highlights

On the tense dynamic between staffers in the White House

The glimpse I've gotten into the White House through Bannon, through all the other White House officials and campaign officials that I interviewed for this book [is] that on a day-to-day basis what's really going on there is a kind of Darwinian fight for survival. Everybody in there is busy either stabbing other people in the back or trying to protect their own back.

One of the themes I touch on in the new preface is why it is that this whole populist/nationalist project failed — the one that got Trump elected — once he got to the White House. And I think the answer is that Bannon ultimately decided to spend his time pursuing his internal enemies and nursing his own grievances. And that is the way that a lot of other senior people in the White House have behaved and continue to behave.

On Bannon's public persona and unkempt appearance

He cultivated this image of himself as a kind of behind-the-scenes Machiavelli, because I think he was shrewd enough to know that if you're out in front of the cable news cameras, Trump is eventually going to turn on you. ...

'Saturday Night Live' had just done their little skit where the Bannon character is Death who comes out as the Grim Reaper — and Bannon just thought it was the greatest thing in the world, thought it was hilarious.

Bannon was delighted with his portrayal in the popular culture. I remember him calling me up one Sunday morning — this would be probably back in the spring or the summer when Saturday Night Live had just done their little skit where the Bannon character is Death who comes out as the Grim Reaper — and Bannon just thought it was the greatest thing in the world, thought it was hilarious.

So all of this, I think, is a very carefully crafted image that is meant to distinguish him as someone different than kind of the lickspittle sycophants who are often representing Trump on cable news, people like Corey Lewandowski who kind of go on and shower Trump with obsequious praise. I think Bannon has much more of an ego than that, views himself as not just a serious figure but as a historical figure who was the brains behind the ideas that got Trump elected.

On Bannon leaking to the press

Bannon was notorious for leaking to the press. He was on the phone with reporters all day every day in the transition and in the White House. The idea that Bannon is hostile to the press — he famously dubbed us "the opposition party" — is a complete fiction and meant to cultivate this idea that Trump and the people around him were constantly and unfairly under assault by reporters.

Bannon loves talking to reporters. He loves trying to shape the narrative, and ultimately, I think his sloppiness in talking to reporters and authors is what cost him his job. But he would use the press not only to kind of shape the daily news, but to go after his enemies and try to plant a dagger in the back of whoever it was that he was upset with these days.

Everybody in the White House knows this. Everybody in the press knows this. And I think Trump knew it too, which is why he ended up leaving as early in the Trump administration has he did.

On the falling out between Trump and Bannon

What Bannon wanted to do when he left the White House was essentially to move the nationalist movement, as he thought of it, beyond just Donald Trump. The real cause of their falling-out — Trump's and Bannon's — was Bannon thought that presidential election was a referendum on a set of ideas, this kind of vision of right-wing populism, and Trump thought it was a referendum on Trump.

And Bannon knew when he left the White House that he needed to advance this movement beyond Trump, who wasn't really committed to it anyway, as we've subsequently seen. And so what he wanted to do was elect a set of Senate candidates who were essentially mini-Trumps who would oust Mitch McConnell, the establishment-friendly Senate majority leader, and give Bannon a base of support within the Congress to essentially change Washington and change the Republican party in a way that would make everybody Trumpist.

On Bannon's willingness to come back to the White House

There isn't an obvious outlet for him to be able to speak and say things, and I think that's one reason why he has let reporters like me and a few other folks back into his world — to essentially have a megaphone to spread this idea and to try to get back on Trump's radar as someone who is still in his corner and is still willing to fight for him if Trump wants to reach out and repair that relationship. One thing is clear is that Bannon is willing and eager to go back, despite all the ignominy heaped on him by the president.

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Seth Kelley adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.