In a brief exchange with the New York Post's Michael Goodwin on Tuesday, Trump seemed to deliberately place Bannon at arm's length, suggesting that his role as an adviser has been oversold and even appearing to threaten Bannon's job.Goodwin says he asked Trump if he still has confidence in Bannon, who is reportedly feuding with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. And Trump didn't exactly disabuse Goodwin of the idea that Bannon is embattled. In fact, he did quite the opposite.
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"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist, and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary."Asked about the friction between various factions in the West Wing, the president added, "Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will."To be sure, this president's operation does not appear to function as a normal White House operation, and perhaps the traditional rules no longer apply. That said, these latest comments sound like a not-so-subtle way of Trump telling Bannon he may want to start updating his resume.Indeed, there's an amazing pattern of behavior when members of Trump's circle fall out of favor (or fall into hot water): their contributions are immediately downgraded to the point of irrelevance. Carter Page was a top campaign foreign policy advisor to Trump, only to learn that Trump no longer knows who he is. Paul Manafort ran the entire Trump campaign, only to have the White House describe his role as trivial. Now, it's Bannon's turn to read about his boss describing his work as largely unimportant and inconsequential.There is, however, a complication the president may not fully appreciate: Bannon effectively serves as the official representative of Trump's ethno-nationalist followers. If Bannon were pushed out of the White House -- or even marginalized further -- the backlash from this radical faction of the Trump base would be severe.It wasn't long ago that Trump was describing his White House team as a "fine-tuned machine." That's now the punch-line to an increasingly sad joke.