Show: HARDBALL Date: August 18, 2017
Guest: David Cay Johnston, Philip Bump, Susan Del Percio, Basil Smikle, Jennifer Rubin, Jamil Smith, Jonathan Swan, Robert Kuttner
STEVE KORNACKI, GUEST HOST: Bannon banished.
Let`s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki, in for Chris Matthews.
Well, after serving seven months as the president`s top White House strategist, Steve Bannon is out tonight. The White House says that Bannon and chief of staff John Kelly, quote, "mutually agreed" that today would be his final day. Axios reports that according to a senior White House official, quote, "Steve was made aware he was going to be asked to leave, and he was given the opportunity to do it on his own terms."
Bannon is the latest in a series of top advisers to leave the Trump administration after very short tenures in the White House. First it was national security adviser Michael Flynn. He was fired for misleading officials about the nature of his contact with Russians.
Then it was press secretary Sean Spicer. He jumped ship when the president made the decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci. Next, Trump`s embattled chief of staff, Reince Priebus, was forced out after a turf war with Scaramucci, who, of course, was soon fired himself.
But the departure today of Trump`s top strategist could have long-term ramifications, especially now with the other big news tonight, that Steve Bannon is already back at Breitbart News. The headline on Breitbart tonight -- it reads this. "Populist hero Stephen K. Bannon returns home." And there at Breitbart, Bannon could either make a strong ally or a very dangerous foe for this White House.
Gabe Sherman of "Vanity Fair" is reporting that a Bannon friend says that Breitbart is ramping up for war against Trump. It`s now a Democrat White House, the source says.
Jonathan Swan of Axios further reports that, A source familiar with Breitbart`s operations told me they would go thermonuclear against globalists that Bannon and his friends believe are ruining the Trump administration.
But Bannon pushed back on those reports late today. He told Bloomberg, quote, "If there`s any confusion out there, let me clear it up. I`m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America."
And in a report today, late tonight in the Weekly Standard says, Bannon told them, quote, "The Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency, but that presidency is over. It`ll be something else."
Joining me now is NBC`s Hallie Jackson from the Trump National Golf Club in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and Jonathan Swan, who we just mentioned him a minute ago -- he`s a national political reporter at Axios, and Robert Kuttner is the co-editor of "The American Prospect." Of course, they published an explosive interview with Bannon earlier this week. Thanks to all of you for being here.
Hallie, let me start with you. I think everybody right now is trying to interpret the nature of this departure. We know he`s back, Bannon is, at Breitbart News being greeted as sort of a conquering here there.
HALLIE JACKSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
KORNACKI: There are some reports that it`s war now between Bannon and this White House. You have Bannon out there saying it`s war for Trump, but against the establishment.
KORNACKI: This war he`s talking about, what is it going to look like?
JACKSON: He wants to fight. He wants a battle. And there will be likely this war. I think when you say against the White House, Steve, we have to be specific as to what you`re talking about. I think that what you`re going to see is Steve Bannon fighting for the nationalist agenda that he believes he helped put into place and helped shape when President Trump then as a candidate a year and a day ago brought Steve Bannon on board.
He`s kind of kindred spirits when it came ideologic -- ideology, rather. They were simpatico on campaign policy. I remember that time in the campaign, it was sort of this fire lit as then candidate Trump, again, was already pushing these policies on immigration, for example, on trade, and that just really exploded at the time.
And let me talk about this departure for a minute because multiple sources -- and I know Jonathan has been working this for days, as well -- have been telling NBC that Bannon was telling people close to him, certain people, that he believed he would survive this, but at the same time was talking with John Kelly about resigning. This was two weeks ago, roughly -- trying to figure out a date. We are being told it was set to happen earlier in the week. That got delayed because of the violence that happened in Charlottesville.
One person said to me, yes, Bannon -- Steve Bannon saw the writing on the wall, essentially. But the question now, I think, of where this story goes is not just what Bannon does at Breitbart, but also, what happens to the far-right conservatives who backed Bannon in Washington? There weren`t many of them, right? But one of them is Steve King, the congressman from Iowa. And I spoke with him. He was on a phone call from Tanzania. And he was extremely concerned. He called this a purge of conservatives from the West Wing, language that you might see echoed, for example, on Breitbart.
He said that he believes that, at this point, the -- as he disparagingly referred to them as the Northeasterners in the West Wing would be driving the agenda now. He has real concerns about Trump following through on his promises, specifically, on immigration, like the border wall. And he said something interesting, that this might put pressure on somebody like Kellyanne Conway, who he cited as one of the last remaining conservatives inside that White House.
KORNACKI: Well, talk about some explosive rhetoric here, here`s something else that Bannon told "The Weekly Standard." Again just tonight, he said this. "I feel jacked up. Now I`m free. I`ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said it`s Bannon the barbarian. I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There`s no doubt. I built a blank machine at Breitbart, and now I`m going to -- I`m about to go back knowing what I know, and we`re about to rev that machine up, and rev it up, we will do."
Jonathan Swan, you`ve been on the inside reporting this thing. That kind of message that Steve Bannon`s delivering -- I`ve got some -- it sounds like he`s saying, at least to me, I`ve got some information. I`ve got some material that I gleaned in the White House that I`m now going to take and maybe share with the public.
If you`re Donald Trump, how is Donald Trump reacting to this?
JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: I haven`t heard from the president today. But I know that he was -- he`s been venting about Steve Bannon a lot recently. He`s been telling people that Bannon is leaker, and he`s saying, Who does he think he is?
One of the things that upset -- "upsets" is the wrong word, "angered"is a better word -- Trump was this Josh -- this book by Josh Green, the Bloomberg reporter, which a lot of people close to Trump saw as a vanity biography for Steve Bannon. Trump resented the notion that Bannon was taking credit for his election victory. So Trump has been incredibly irritated with Steve Bannon.
And I could just imagine him reading this piece in "Weekly Standard" saying that the Trump presidency is over. It`s almost laboratory test designed to enrage Donald Trump. If you were going to craft a sentence to enrage Donald Trump, it would look a lot like that.
KORNACKI: Robert Kuttner, your interview this week with Steve Bannon-- he didn`t know it was an interview, apparently, or maybe he did. I can ask you about that. But this was in "The American Prospect."
Bannon openly contradicted the president and challenged members of the administration. Despite Trump`s tough talk on North Korea, Bannon said, quote, "There`s no military solution here. They got us." Speaking of his adversaries inside the Defense and State Departments, he said, "They`re wetting themselves." And he said, quote, "I fight every day against Gary Cohn" -- that`s Trump`s National Economic Council chairman, as well as the Department of Treasury.
Despite reports that he tendered his resignation on August 7th, effective today, you also write that, quote, "The conversation ended with Bannon inviting me to the White House after Labor Day to continue the discussion."
So that`s an interesting detail here. The word we`re getting is there was sort of talk of an imminent Bannon resignation or departure from the White House, but you`re talking to him after that apparently happens and he`s talking to you about, Hey, come see me in the White House.
How do you interpret that now in light of today`s events?
ROBERT KUTTNER, "AMERICAN PROSPECT": Well, I interpret it either that he was delusional or that he was proceeding on two tracks. Track one is that he`s going to have to leave. Track two is that he`s going to stay and pursue his trade agenda and he`s looking for allies. Now, it was not sound judgment on his part to think that getting Bob Kuttner of "The American Prospect" as an ally on trade would somehow increase his credibility with his colleagues at the White House.
So my picture of Bannon in that interview was a guy who was reckless, a guy who was at risk of making really poor judgments. But then after denying for 24 hours that he meant this to be on the record, he then spoke to "The Daily Mail," of all places, and said that, No, actually, this was deliberate. He did this interview deliberately to divert media attention from the events in Charlottesville.
So here`s what I -- to conclude this, here`s -- here`s my takeaway. Bannon always had a plan B, and the plan B was to go back to Breitbart, and he was going to be at the White House as long as that was useful to his agenda.
And I do think this escalation of pressure from Breitbart could very well backfire in terms of Trump`s response. Trump does not like to be pushed around. Whether you love him or hate him, this is a guy who doesn`t like to be upstaged, he doesn`t like to be pushed around, and he could just as well decide that this alliance with the far, far, far right, the neo-Nazis, the economic nationalists -- you know, it served him for a while.
But if Bannon is going to leave and if Breitbart`s going to kick him around, he just might make his peace with establishment far-right Republicans.
KORNACKI: Yes, well, Jonathan, we`re talking so much about what this might look like on the outside if there`s a war of words or something here between Trump, between the White House and then Steve Bannon and Breitbart. But what about on the inside? You`ve got this new chief of staff, Kelly, now, presumably. He`s happy to have Bannon out of the way now.
Is this going to change anything at a practical level inside the White House or not?
SWAN: I think it will, yes, because, really, the factions have been eroded. There really aren`t -- well, now that Bannon`s gone -- and presumably, my understanding is his staff will go, as well, not that they were very consequently -- but there aren`t really factions anymore. You`ve Jared, Ivanka, who are basically aligned with the national security team and the generals.
I guess to the extent that you have a conservative influence, it`s actually really in the vice president`s office and the legislative affairs shop led by Marc Short is fairly conservative. And then you`ve got a few others scattered around like Kellyanne Conway and Rick Dearborn. So I do think you`ll have conservative voices, but it`s a very different type of conservatism.
I wouldn`t describe Bannon as a conservative. Bannon was arguing for higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy. He was arguing for economic war with China, fairly protectionist trade policies, total withdrawal from Afghanistan and the use of contractors in a kind of paramilitary operation. So that whole voice disappears.
It only resides now in the figure of Donald Trump and I guess Stephen Miller, as well, who is the remaining nationalist at the top level of the West Wing. But I will say Stephen Miller is a very good -- he works within the system, and he`s become very close to Jared and others. So he`s not the disruptive force that Steve Bannon was.
KORNACKI: Yes, and Hallie, I`m trying to figure this out, too, because you`ve got some provocative words here tonight from Bannon, and as Jonathan says, maybe these are words that could provoke Donald Trump in some way. On the other hand, you also have Bannon trying to draw that distinction there, saying, I don`t want to fight Trump. I want to fight the people who are fighting Trump. It`s what the conservatives used to say with Reagan 30 years ago. We just want Reagan to be Reagan. We don`t want his advisers pushing him off his course.
But what kind of -- what kind of pull, potentially, would a guy like Bannon have with the Trump base? If there is some kind of public battle here between Trump and Bannon...
KORNACKI: Does Bannon really bring an army into that battle, of it it`s Trump versus Bannon, are they going to say, Forget it. We`re Trump.
JACKSON: Well, I think the White House answer to that question is no, right? And I`ll tell you that one official -- one person inside the administration that we`ve spoken to, posing that question to, said, Listen, it`s not Steve Bannon who leads Donald Trump`s base, it`s Donald Trump who leads his own base. So sure, Bannon can lead. He can go sort of rile up folks on the outside. But ultimately, the president is the president and people voted and went in and pressed the button for Donald Trump, not for Steve Bannon.
Now, obviously, when you talk to folks, for example, that are close to Breitbart, there`s a sense that they can sort of push some of this nationalist agenda that Jonathan laid out. And I think Jonathan is exactly right, that while there are people who possess that ideology in the White House, it`s not that kind of faction that you think of when you think of how -- I mean, I think back to that picture you showed at the top of your broadcast of the advisers who were sitting in the Oval Office with President Trump -- Reince Priebus, Mike Flynn, Sean Spicer and now Steve Bannon, all of them gone. So it`s so different than it was seven months ago. That much is obviously clear.
But I would say moving forward, when you look at -- to your question -- where is the pull? Where is the push? It is still Donald Trump who is the face of this.
I will say, too, what I think you might see -- I look to his comments earlier in this week at that press conference we were at the lobby of Trump Tower, where he said this phrase -- and I have heard it repeated back to me by folks close to Bannon, which was, We will see what happens with Mr. Bannon.
And there -- sort of hearken back to this idea of marginalizing Paul Manafort`s role in the campaign. You heard President Trump sort of stay, Well, Steve Bannon came on really late in the campaign, and sort of begin the process of distancing himself from somebody who was very close to the president. Just like Paul Manafort was the campaign chair, it`s tough to say that he didn`t have much of a role, Steve Bannon was sort of right there with the president in the trenches for a long time.
KORNACKI: Yes, you mentioned this, too, a minute ago, Jonathan. I`m curious about this, too. Bannon`s fingerprints -- they seem to be on a lot -- with Donald Trump`s administration, with his campaign, including, though, I think a few of the areas where Donald Trump really departed from traditional Republican orthodoxy, and I think areas where it maybe helped make him popular in those -- you know, Michigan, Pennsylvania, you know, those Rust Belt states that he picked up.
I`m talking about infrastructure spending. I`m talking about a different form of tax cuts, the idea of maybe even targeting it down the scale and not so toward the rich, going against sort of traditional Republican orthodoxy on that.
Trump seemed interested in that in the campaign. It seemed to work in the campaign. Why couldn`t Bannon sell him on that as president? What was going on behind the scenes there?
SWAN: Well, I think that Trump already believed a lot of these things and was already campaigning on them. Bannon joined fairly late. And I will say, if you look at the presidency so far, you know, Trump withdrew from Paris. I don`t think that was because of Steve Bannon. I believe it was because Donald Trump instinctively wanted to withdraw from the Paris climate accords.
I think -- I know for a fact, Trump is telling his team now. He`s saying, I want tariffs, I want tariffs. This is -- this is in terms of the trade conflicts with China. And so Bannon was really somebody who Donald Trump instinctively believes a bunch of thing and so does Steve, and Bannon would tell him, You`re doing right thing, would egg him on. He`d reinforce him. Now he`s gone. There`s one fewer voice doing that.
But just to your earlier point about what Breitbart`s going to do. My expectation -- and I`ll tell you, I know quite a few people at Breitbart. I know Steve Bannon pretty well. My expectation is that they are going to not attack Donald Trump. They are going to present it...
KUTTNER (?): Right.
SWAN: ... as an administration and a White House captured by the, quote, unquote, "West Wing Democrats." They are going to present a picture to the country and portray it as the globalists taking over our movement, and Donald Trump as sort of a victim of that. That`s what I expect to be the way they drive this narrative.
I don`t know that for a fact, but based on my conversations today, these people are fired up to take on -- Bannon just mentioned the media, the corporates and the Capitol Hill. He didn`t mention the people in the White House he`s going to fight. And I`m telling you right now he`s going to take on Gary Cohn, Jared Kushner, Dina Powell, H.R. McMaster. They are going to war against all of those people inside the White House.
KORNACKI: Yes, no, I mean, reading this "Weekly Standard" in review (ph), there`s a reference (INAUDIBLE) he says there`s going to be a jail break of these moderates on Capitol Hill. He`s talking about the Republican establishment, aiming his scorn at that.
I`m just curious, Bob Kuttner, though, if that`s the direction. If what Jonathan is describing is the direction that Breitbart goes right now, do you think that has any effect?
KUTTNER: Well, I would revise what Jonathan said in one respect. Breitbart has to keep its lines straight, and you can`t both be kicking the president and then having Bannon saying, I`m here to defend the president.
I would bet my reputation on the premise that even though Bannon is gone from the White House, he`s still going to have a lot of back-channel conversations with Trump. He`s going to be less accountable than he was. General Kelly can`t control him anymore, if he could even control him before. And Trump is famous for having, you know, conversations in the middle of the night with old friends.
So Bannon now has it both ways. He has influence both as an insider who`s friendly with Trump and as an outsider. And if he`s chairman of Breitbart and Breitbart is kicking the president, and he`s also trying to have an inside relationship with the president -- you can only go so far down that road before Trump starts feeling that he`s flim-flam.
So you know, I certainly don`t think this strengthens the president. I think it strengthens Bannon in some respects, but I think Breitbart may discover that it doesn`t have quite as much influence as it thinks it has.
KORNACKI: Yes, could be.
KUTTNER: There`s some small percentage of the electorate that looks to Breitbart, but it`s not any means -- by any means even a majority of the Republican electorate. And at some point, Trump is going to have to figure out how to play this game. Is he going to throw in with the far right, the neo-Nazis, the white nationalists? Is he going to try and mend fences with more traditional conservative Republicans? And that`s going to be really interesting to see how this plays out.
KORNACKI: Yes. And again, Bannon in his interview tonight, he seems to be predicting -- he says he thinks Trump`s going to be going towards and pushed towards the establishment of the Republican Party. We will see if that`s the direction this goes.
But Robert Kuttner, Jonathan Swan, Hallie Jackson, thank you to all of you. Some great information, great insight tonight.
And coming up, the ouster of Steve Bannon capping off a week that couldn`t have gone much worse for President Trump. But we`ve said that once or twice this year. He`s under siege from key Republican leaders who are questioning his competence, his stability, his moral authority, one of them says. Tat`s ahead.
Plus, firing Steve Bannon won`t do much to fix what`s wrong with the Trump presidency. That`s a possibility, at least. We`re going to talk to a long-time Trump watcher about what he makes of Trump`s remarks this week and how they might fit into a larger pattern.
And Jeb Bush famously promised Donald Trump would be a chaos president. With so much upheaval in his first seven months and so little to show for it legislatively, where`s the White House go from here?
And finally, the HARDBALL roundtable is going to be here with three things you might not know tonight.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: It`s clear there`s been some friction between President Trump and Steve Bannon for some time now.
As BuzzFeed reported yesterday, Bannon has for months drawn the president`s ire, with Trump feeling his strategy seeks too much credit for his election win.
"That `blanking` Steve Bannon taking credit for my election," Trump recently told a confidante, reporting there from BuzzFeed.
The president was reportedly irritated when "TIME" magazine featured Bannon on its cover back in February. He later described Bannon as "a guy who works for me" in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal."
And Trump downplayed Bannon`s role in the campaign, telling "The New York Post" back in April that: "You have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I`m my own strategist."
We will be right back.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It is only day 210 of the Trump presidency, but the firing of Steve Bannon seems to have capped off what could be the worst week yet for President Trump politically. Of course, we have said this a couple times before.
Bannon`s departure comes on the heels of Trump`s controversial comments on Charlottesville, comments which have left the president increasingly isolated within leaders of his own party, and that sentiment being shared by President Trump`s friend and confidant Newt Gingrich.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think he`s in a position right now where he is much more isolated than he realizes. On the Hill, he has far more people willing to sit to one side and not help him right now.
And I think that he needs to recognize that he`s taken a good first step with bringing in General Kelly, but he needs to think about what has not worked. And you don`t get down in the 35 percent range of approval and have people in your own party shooting at you and conclude that everything`s going fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And, today, in a stinging rebuke, Mitt Romney called on Trump to apologize for his comments on Charlottesville, writing on Facebook -- quote -- "The president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize, state forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100 percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville."
With Steve Bannon`s departure, the president risks even further isolation, this time from his political base.
For more, I`m joined by Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer and author of "The Post"`s "Right Turn" blog. Eli Stokols is White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" and an MSNBC analyst. And Jamil Smith, contributor writer for The Daily Beast.
Thanks to all of you for being with us.
Eli, let me pick up on a point that was made in our last block. I`m curious what you make of it, the idea that, hey, Steve Bannon is leaving the White House today. He is going back to Breitbart. He is even talking about launching a war against some of the people around the president.
But is that necessarily going to mean that his days of having a line of communication with Donald Trump, giving him advice, talking strategy with him -- could that endure still?
ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, yes. We have seen that with a lot of the people who Trump has sort of ejected from Trump world, Corey Lewandowski being sort of the most obvious case of a person who still has a direct line to the president, someone the president enjoys personally.
Steve Bannon and the president had a close personal relationship during the campaign. I`m not sure it is as close now, in large part because the president has sort of been irked by this notion out there perpetuated by the Josh Green book and others that Bannon was the mastermind behind all of this.
The president wants the credit for this. And that`s a big reason why he was so predisposed to let Steve Bannon go this week. But, again, the issue that you`re talking about here, this is going back to -- I mean, Steve Bannon may leave the White House, but that story is being conflated with the other story that makes this, if not the worst week of the presidency, certainly one of them.
And that`s the fact that the president just bungled the response to Charlottesville so badly. And, in doing so, he was embracing the nationalism that Bannon represents. So, even as he is casting this figure out of the White House, the president remains -- he believes a lot of the things that Steve Bannon has been criticized for as it pertains to white nationalism, nationalism, general economic nationalism, the American first campaign that he ran on.
That is deeply ingrained in this president. And so I think that is a reason why it`s likely that these two will continue to have conversations as this presidency goes forward.
KORNACKI: Well, Jennifer, you have got Bannon out there tonight basically saying -- it sounds like he`s saying he thinks Trump is going to become almost a moderate or an establishment guy, that it`s all these disparaging words in these interviews for the Republican Party establishment.
He said Trump now is going to be forced to go with what he calls, I think the term he uses here standard Republican version of the taxes, meaning weighted toward the highest earners, nothing where -- Trump at one point had talked about maybe raising rates on the highest earners, cutting them on the lower end of the scale, saying the whole idea here of infrastructure, maybe that is off the table.
Do you buy that? Is there an establishment version of Trump that could emerge from this? Is there a possibility of an administration that can accomplish things legislatively that could emerge from this?
JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Trump himself is an empty vessel.
Aside from the racism and from the self-promotion, he doesn`t really have views on these issues. They`re completely flexible and fungible, depending upon the moment.
So, really, what we`re going to have, I think, is sort of a three- or maybe even a four-corner war. You are going to have the Breitbart people laying into Jared and Ivanka and to Gary Cohn and indirectly the president, because you can`t insult the proposals they put out without, in some instances, and without, in some context, insulting the president.
You are going to have the business community, which is already running from him -- we also forget because this week was so full that two business councils abandoned him.
You then have members of Congress who are about to get either primaried or at least shot at by the Breitbart people as they`re going into a very tough midterm election 2018. Are they going to be putting up candidates or at least pummeling poor Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, two of the most vulnerable Republicans?
And then you have the people inside the administration who are trying desperately to get something done, so that Trump has some claim to have accomplished something, and that the congressional Republicans can run on something in 2018.
And then you have got things like the debt ceiling and the budget coming up next month. Are going they going to get through next month without a financial crisis? It`s not clear to me that they will be able to.
KORNACKI: Jamil, those sort of, for lack of a better term, the establishment forces that Jennifer is describing there, I think, were particularly perturbed by what the president had to say this week about Charlottesville.
Do you think there is a chance that they would read this almost as a political offering? He`s offering up a sacrifice here? And is it a way to hit the restart button with him to allow them to say, OK, he responded in some way to the criticism of this, he got the nationalist guy out of the administration?
JAMIL SMITH, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that there are going to be some people who buy that line, certainly.
I think that there are going to be a number of Republicans who respond to this move by saying, well, at least now that this person who is in his ear all day, who represents white nationalism, advertised his Web site as the home of the -- quote -- "alt-right," is gone.
So, never mind the fact that Stephen Miller is still there. Never mind the fact that Sebastian and Katharine Gorka are still there. Well, there`s an opportunity now to reshape this presidency.
I think that they would be fooling themselves if they actually believed that. I think, as Jennifer noted, there are a number of crises up ahead, and the president is uniquely unqualified to confront them.
And, frankly, what you see now is with the handling of Charlottesville, is a president who nobody really should want to touch. Those were his words. Those were not Steve Bannon`s words.
KORNACKI: And, Eli, when you had the new chief of staff come in a couple weeks ago, John Kelly, a military man, all the talk about maybe he`s going to establish order, some discipline in the White House, get things under control there, in terms of people who were looking for his appointment as chief of staff to do that, does today`s development with Steve Bannon say anything in that regard?
STOKOLS: I think it says that that John Kelly is empowered within the administration, at least downward, to manage down.
But, again, the big question that everybody has raised is, can he manage up? Can he actually rein in the self-destructive impulsive of a president who has always got TV, who has got a lot of conspiracy theories already lodged in his brain, and who`s always got his phone and Twitter at arm`s length away?
That`s the problem and challenge for John Kelly. And I think that that`s one of the things that is going to sort of consume his days day in and day out at the White House.
And the other thing that may inflame Steve Bannon and Breitbart is that this is now a White House increasingly being run by generals. You have got Kelly. You have got McMaster. You have got Mattis.
Those people will be driving national security policy. They met today on Afghanistan. And that is another thing that perturbs Steve Bannon and people who are in his camp who said they run on sort of a new isolationism on this American first platform. They don`t like the idea of a more hawkish Republican foreign policy being run by establishment figures.
And so will be another point of tension.
KORNACKI: Yes. I think one of those things, when he thinks about that phone, Kelly, maybe he`s going to be wondering now if Steve Bannon is calling that phone at some point and have to maybe worry about that.
KORNACKI: We will see.
Eli Stokols, Jennifer Rubin, Jamil Smith, thanks to all of you for joining us.
And up next: How do President Trump`s explosive remarks on Charlottesville fit with what he`s said and done over the years? We`re going to talk to a man who has been tracking Trump for decades. He says the latest comments this week, they`re just part of a pattern.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
President Trump says he`s the least racist person, but his words and actions this past week suggest to many a different story.
A recent "New York Times" report looks at Trump`s personal history with race. But how does his history square with his response to the Charlottesville tragedy?
For more, I`m joined by a man who literally wrote a book, the book, on Donald Trump, David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump." He`s editor in chief of DCReport.org.
David, thanks for taking a few minutes.
OK. So if people saw Donald Trump give this sort of impromptu press conference earlier this week on Charlottesville, seemed to contradict the spirit of what he had said just the day before, and a lot of people, I think, looked up and said, where did that come from?
You are somebody who has been covering him going back decades. Where did it come from?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, FOUNDER, DCREPORT.ORG: It came from the heart, to the extent he has one, of Donald Trump.
The earlier statement, which he read off a teleprompter, was like a hostage video. But you saw the real Donald come out in the second meeting. And Donald lives in this world where he says, I`m the least racist person you have will ever meet.
Well, Steve, I`m the youngest person you have ever had on this show.
Donald has, his entire life, been involved in discrimination. And he`s been found to have done so. He and his father were sued 44 years ago for discrimination in housing. New Jersey casino regulators found that he discriminated against blacks, women and Asians.
And he`s made all sorts of awful racist statement, including the stuff he said this week, which was full of vile racism.
KORNACKI: Are his attitudes on race -- this is a guy who is in his early 70s, 71 years old, I think. He is an outer borough guy here from New York City, Queens. Of course, people think of Queens, you go back a couple generations, people think of the famous television character Archie Bunker.
Is that world -- the world, if people remember it, from Archie Bunker, "All in the Family," is that the world Trump came of age in?
JOHNSTON: Even worse than that.
His father, remember, was arrested in 1927 when there was a pitched battle between about 1,00 KKKers, some of them in hoods, and 100 or so New York police. Trump makes a big deal out of the fact that his father wasn`t prosecuted, he was only arrested.
But he comes by this through family experience.
KORNACKI: Well, Trump flirted with a run for president in 2000 as the Reform Party candidate. That was Ross Perot`s party back then, didn`t last too long. He denounced rival Pat Buchanan as a neo-Nazi.
Here`s part of his explanation for what he dropped out of that race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": What do you see as the biggest problem with the Reform Party right now?
TRUMP: Well, you have got David Duke just joined, a bigot, a racist, a problem. I mean, this is not exactly the people you want in your party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: So, David, here`s the thing that I`m a little confused by, and maybe you could shed some light on.
If you go back in time to 1999 and 2000, Donald Trump essentially ran for president. He dropped out in early 2000, but he did all the things a candidate would do.
And one of his major platform items that year was, he was running against Pat Buchanan for this Reform Party nomination, and he was calling Pat Buchanan a racist. He was calling him anti-immigrant. He was calling him a Hitler lover. He was calling him an anti-Semite.
And everything you just said about the other day it sounded like a hostage video when he made his initial statement about Charlottesville, It didn`t sound like a hostage video when he was saying those things about Pat Buchanan.
What was the Donald Trump, who was the Donald Trump we were hearing and seeing then? Because it sounded like it was genuinely coming from somewhere deep inside here.
JOHNSTON: Donald has no principles. There`s no moral core to this man.
He will say and do whatever gets what he thinks is in his interests at the moment. And Donald is at heart a con artist. He has conned banks into loaning him money and said later, I knew I wouldn`t have pay them back.
He`s conned people in -- many, many people in small businesses into doing work for him and then refusing to pay them. And he`s spent his whole life conning people.
And if it turned out that, tomorrow, it would be good for Donald`s career to go to a mosque, you would see him do that. He does whatever in the moment he thinks will advance his interests.
And he`s not a strategic thinker, Steve. This is one of the most important things. He doesn`t think ahead two, three, five steps. When he embraces the Wahhabi faction of the Muslim religion in his trip to Saudi Arabia, he doesn`t think through at all what that means to others in the Muslim world and particularly Qatar where we have our most important military base in the Middle East. And that`s because he doesn`t know anything. He just has instincts from which he operates.
KORNACKI: It`s a fascinating topic. We got to cut it short here unfortunately, but it`s one that I want to find a way to explore at some point in the future. Trump from 2000, the guy we just showed you to today, and really to 2010 or so. What changed in terms of his instincts for what was in his best interests, if he says his transactional as you`re saying here, I`m curious about that story of what happened between 2000 and 2010 to get him from the guy who condemned Pat Buchanan to the guy who becomes a birther? But it is, whatever else you say --
JOHNSTON: The country moved to the right, Steve. That`s the big part of it. It moved to the right and he saw opportunity and Donald went after that opportunity.
KORNACKI: All right. There it is. David Cay Johnston, thank you for taking a few minutes.
Up next, we`ve seen one major departure after another in the Trump administration. But will the White House door finally stop revolving now that Steve Bannon is gone? That is next with the round table and you`re watching HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Well, Donald Trump`s presidency is looking less and less like finely tuned machine. We`re only about seven months in and almost all of the president`s original senior staffers have now left the White House. Will this mark an end to the constant upheaval in the Trump White House?
Let`s bring in tonight`s HARDBALL roundtable. Philip Bump is a political reporter for "The Washington Post", Susan del Percio is a Republican strategist, and Basil Smikle is executive director of the New York state Democratic Party.
Susan, voice of the Republican Party. We`ll start with you.
Obviously, there`s a soap opera quality of this story. Bannon is a significant figure for a lot of reasons. There`s a sort of symbolic role he plays in the rise of Trumpism and obviously, there`s been a lot of speculation about this. So, it`s a big story.
But in terms of what we`re going to be talking about a week from now, a month from now, is this a moment we would look back at do you think a few months from now and say, something changed in the Trump White House, the Trump administration? Or are we going to be talking about the same kinds of stories there?
SUSAN DEL PERCIO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. The president is not going to change. That`s what would require the mayhem to calm down in the White House. So, that`s not going to happen. Steve Bannon leaving is a story and it will probably be the story down the road when he starts attacking president or people within the White House.
But until the president decides that he really wants to have a real agenda and move forward, and the more he just wants to go off the cuff, the more chaos he`s going to create.
KORNACKI: Well, Philip, you`ve got Bannon in this interview I think with the "Weekly Standard" tonight as basically saying or predicting, I don`t know, maybe taunting Trump, saying he`s going to go establishment now. You`re going to get an establishment Republican agenda on taxes. He`s saying a typical Republican tax program.
Is that right? Do you think something is going to emerge that`s sort of tax plan we would have gotten from President Cruz, from President Rubio? Is that going to happen now?
PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, I think what we should keep in mind is that Donald Trump came to the presidency, came to his campaign with no pre-established plans. No policy. He was proud of the fact that he didn`t actually established any set policy that he planned to enact as president.
What has been led before him repeatedly has been, what Congress wanted to anyway? Is health care, it was something that was crafted on Capitol Hill. You know, the White House tried to take some ownership over it, but clearly they didn`t. This isn`t -- I mean, Donald Trump isn`t a policy guy. He`s never been a policy guy.
It`s kind of -- I mean, I have to sort of laugh when I have to say because, of course, Trump is not a policy guy. That`s not who he is. Therefore, whatever agenda he ends up signing, no matter who is with him at the White House, is going to be the agenda the Congress put in front of him.
KORNACKI: Basil, how this looks from the outside, how this looks to the public, OK? There was all this attention this week to Donald Trump, the comments about Charlottesville. Bannon has been a lightning rod all along, I think especially this week. Does this look do you think to the public like, hey, Donald Trump is, he`s getting rid of the guy, you know, who was sort of linked to thought Charlottesville stuff?
BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NY STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, I think for John Kelly, perhaps, that might be the image that they want to project, that you have this new chief of staff that`s going to create order. Let`s scapegoat the guy or just get rid of the guy who could be blamed for a lot of what Donald Trump had said over the last couple of days.
But I go back to even well before that, the racial animus that Donald Trump has projected throughout the course of his career, whether it`s housing discrimination, Central Park Five, the birtherism while Obama was president. Bannon was not in his life at that time. So, that was Donald Trump speaking. It perhaps enshrined the alt right when Bannon was brought into the White House. So, his departure I don`t think actually changes anything.
DEL PERCIO: There is one thing it does affect though, because as a Republican, seeing Senator Corker take Donald Trump to task yesterday. I think that could have been a breaking point where Republicans really would have stood up to the president and said we`re not going to take this and create their own agenda and rally against him.
KORNACKI: I mean, we`ve had some sort of false alarms --
DEL PERCIO: Well, this now with Bannon leaving, I think it gives a lot of excuses to a lot of Republicans to say, oh, well, look, we are going to give him a reset.
KORNACKI: Calm down.
DEL PERCIO: Calm down. And I actually think that`s just so unfortunate because the people in the party, the leadership was starting to speak up --
KORNACKI: Well, and I`ve got to say, that the first thing I thought of Mitt Romney this morning, it is old news now with Bannon. But Mitt Romney comes out with his blistering statement today. I`m remembering, Mitt Romney said the same things in the campaign last year, then he almost became the secretary of state.
KORNACKI: A quick break here. That`s right. Get that one in here for your party.
The roundtable is staying with us. Up next, Steve Bannon helped get President Trump elected by preying on the anxieties of some voters. But will the politics of fear continue now that Bannon is out?
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you think they`re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day -- every day, it is going to be a fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KORNACKI: Well, that was Steve Bannon warning Republicans the Trump presidency would be a constant battle against the opposition. Bannon has been credited as the architect behind much of the president`s politics, specifically his use of massaging the anxiety of his base. And even though Bannon is gone, it does not look like the president will abandon that strategy.
That is ahead. This is HARDBALL.
KORNACKI: And welcome back to HARDBALL.
Today, President Trump used the terror attacks in Spain to promote his travel ban and to attack the courts. He tweeted this: Radical Islam terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary. The courts must give us back our protective rights. Have to be tough.
We are back here with our roundtable, Philip, Susan and Basil.
A reminder there -- there are other events in the world today besides Steve Bannon, but let`s talk more about Steve Bannon.
This is an interesting thing, Philip, that I have been noticing in some of the reporting tonight. Apparently, Steve Bannon was really getting under Donald Trump`s skin because of the perception that Steve Bannon played a critical, strategic role in the rise of Donald Trump. And really did truly bothered Donald Trump to the point that he wanted the guy gone.
BUMP: Right. We`ve seen this before, that people that had a part in Donald Trump`s rise, reported has having had that position and Donald Trump gets mad at them. Donald Trump obviously wants to be -- you know, this is the guy during the Republican convention said, I`m the one guy alone who can fix it. I think he still tries, you know, with the exception of blaming everything on Mitch McConnell, he tries to put it forward that everything that is good is because of me and everything bad is because of someone else.
KORNACKI: And so, I mean, for somebody who might be asked to join this administration, something with a credible, solid resume, not just Bannon, you look at the entire roster of the last eight months, what do you take away from that?
DEL PERCIO: I mean, not only that. You also take away, besides the amount of people who left about the people within that he`s attacked. That would have me most concerned going into the White House is you know that this president will never fully have your back. And that, why would grow in for that and do your job and risk your reputation?
KORNACKI: And, Basil, quickly, I mean, that`s the possibility here, too, of some sort of public feud now between Bannon and Trump.
SMIKLE: I think there will be. And the question is, with those folks in the White House that may feel that they have or may be the focus of his attacks, do they actually run to Donald Trump for cover and Donald Trump actually give them the cover they are looking for?
DEL PERCIO: Not unless it`s good for him.
KORNACKI: There you go. The self-interest principle.
Our roundtable is staying with us. Up next, these three are going to have the easiest job in the world. They`re going to tell me something. I don`t know.
This is HARDBALL, where the action is.
KORNACKI: We are back with the HARDBALL round table.
Philip, tell me something I don`t know.
BUMP: This one blew my mind today. I realized it`s only been 101 days since James Comey was fired.
KORNACKI: Seems like 1,000.
DEL PERCIO: Tomorrow, there is a free speech rally in Boston. They were expecting 1,000 people. They are now expecting over 3,000. Boston police have 500 cops on board. It could be a very explosive situation and take Steve Bannon right off the headlines.
KORNACKI: All right. And, Basil?
SMIKLE: Supreme Court may decide to take up Janice versus Asby. The question is, from the point of view of the plaintiff, does the individual who is covered by union benefits have to pay union dues even if they choose not to be a member and the union is actually fighting on their behalf? If the Supreme Court decides against the union, it actually could weaken them by lessening their membership and it affects big states like New York and California.
KORNACKI: I`m sorry. Were you offering some non-Trump news there?
SMIKLE: I was, I was.
KORNACKI: In this day and age. Basil Smikle, Susan del Percio, Philip Bump, thanks to all of you for joining us.
That is HARDBALL for now. Thank you for being with us.
"ALL IN" starts right now.
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