White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told a journalist about his long-simmering feud with some of President Donald Trump’s top economic advisers, saying in an interview with The American Prospect that he battles them often, especially over his determination to take a tougher position on China.
Bannon never intended for his conversation with the magazine’s co-editor Robert Kuttner to be published, according to a person familiar with Bannon who asked not to be identified. The publication comes as there is speculation that Bannon’s job is peril, reportedly over Trump’s discomfort with the credit Bannon gets for being the intellectual force behind the administration.
Last month, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was removed just 10 days into the job after Scaramucci made lewd comments about Bannon and others in an interview with the New Yorker that he also later said was meant to be off the record.
According to Kuttner, Bannon told him he reached out because he agreed with Kuttner’s past writings on China. Bannon rarely speaks with reporters on the record, let alone a liberal-leaning magazine.
In a telephone interview, Kuttner said the issue of whether his conversation with Bannon was off the record never came up, even indirectly. “He phoned and began by saying how much he agreed with my work on trade and it just went from there. He knows the rules. It’s on the record unless someone puts it off.”
“That’s a fight I fight every day here,” Bannon is quoted as saying in the interview about his fueds with other senior officials over China. He pointed to fellow Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alumni, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who are pushing for a softer stance on trade with China. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.”
The interview comes as the White House has struggled to respond to Saturday’s violent racial protests in Charlottesville, Virginia and as some aides — including Cohn — have objected in private to Trump’s restrained denunciations of white supremacists. Bannon approved of the president’s approach, said officials in the administration who asked not to be named. Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the interview, Bannon said his rivals in the administration are “wetting themselves” as he works to undermine their influence with the president and he bragged about working to get some of them ousted. There has been speculation in recent days that Bannon could be in danger of losing his job, though Trump spoke in supportive terms about about him at Tuesday’s press conference.
Bannon said he favors pushing back against Chinese economic expansion, arguing only one country will emerge as a leader from what he described as an “economic war.”
“To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover,” he said.
He advocated for the U.S. to file a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act — which allows for sanctions against countries that violate trade agreements or engage in unfair trade practices — as well as follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping, Kuttner wrote.
“We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us,” Bannon said.
Bannon also dismissed speculation that the U.S might consider using military action against North Korea to get the regime there to abandon its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programs. Trump recently vowed to deliver “fire and fury” onto North Korea.
“There’s no military solution, forget it,” Bannon said. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten 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, they got us.”
In the interview, Bannon also dismissed the so called far-right that he helped organize and inflame when he led Breitbart News and during Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more,” he said. “These guys are a collection of clowns.”
Still, Bannon said he’s fine with the issue of race taking over the national conversation. “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em,” he is quoted as saying. “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.”
— With assistance by Margaret Talev