As a rule, the White House’s media strategy follows a predictable path. Donald Trump and his team routinely lash out at major mainstream outlets, while praising, promoting, and providing access to the administration’s conservative allies.
Once in a great while, though, a curve ball crosses the plate.
The United States is in an economic war with China, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief political strategist has said, warning Washington is losing the fight but is about to hit China hard over unfair trade practices.
In a wide-ranging interview with [The American Prospect] published Wednesday, Steve Bannon also weighed in on worsening tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and the furor caused by white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.
For those who don’t know, The American Prospect is an unapologetically progressive political magazine. The fact that Bannon called its co-editor and co-founder, Robert Kuttner, unprompted and out of the blue, is unexpected. (The liberal journalist concedes in the piece he was “stunned.”)
And yet, Trump’s controversial chief strategist didn’t just reach out to Kuttner; Bannon also had all kinds of insights to share. Among the highlights:
* Bannon told the Prospect he intends to neutralize his rivals at the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury. “They’re wetting themselves,” he told Kuttner, before naming names of various opponents within the administration. (Bannon vowed, for example to oust Susan Thornton, the acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at State.)
* As far as Bannon is concerned, the United States is already “at economic war with China.” He added, “To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that…. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”
* Despite the president’s bluster towards North Korea, Bannon dismissed the idea of a confrontation. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul 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,” He told Kuttner, adding, “They got us.”
* Bannon apparently called The American Prospect because he’s cultivating some kind of coalition of hawks on trade, which would include some liberals.
* On the most radical elements of Trump’s base, Bannon told Kuttner, “Ethno-nationalism – it’s losers. It’s a fringe element.” He added, “These guys are a collection of clowns.”
* And on a related note, Bannon concluded in reference to Democrats, “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.”
I find it hard to believe this will help Bannon’s status in the West Wing, which, by some measures, was already precarious. If Trump worries about his chief strategist’s self-promotion, selling himself to the media as the genius behind the throne, the fact that Bannon called a progressive magazine to share his perspective on a variety of issues – including undercutting the president’s posturing on North Korea – won’t help.
The New York Times’ piece on this said that Bannon apparently thought the conversation was off the record. Kuttner wrote, “The question of whether the phone call was on or off the record never came up.”
For what it’s worth, Bannon isn’t new to the game and he’s well aware of the rules when chatting with a journalist.
Disclosure: I should probably note that I’ve written for The American Prospect several times, and in 2006, I ran the magazine’s campaign blog.