Bannon's apology too little, too late for Trump

Former Trump aide and confidant Steve Bannon issued a sort-of apology on Sunday for the incendiary statements he made about Donald Trump and Trump's family to Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff.  Curiously, he gave the statement exclusively to the far-left wing, virulently anti-Trump website Axios.

Battered by the backlash from Michael Wolff's book, Steve Bannon is trying to make amends with the Trump family, providing a statement to Axios that expresses "regret" to President Trump and praises his son, Donald Trump[,] Jr.

  • "Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man.  He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around."
  • "My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda – as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News[,] and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama."
  • "President Trump was the only candidate [who] could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus.  I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism[] and remain ready to stand in the breach [Editor's note: Originally, this quotation read 'breech.'  It has been changed to 'breach' at some venues and left standing at others.] for this president's efforts to make America great again."
  • "My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a [n]aval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of 'the evil empire' and to making films about Reagan's war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton's involvement in selling uranium to them."
  • "My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate.  He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning[,] and not our friends.  To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr."
  • "Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian 'collusion' investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview.  There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt."
  • "I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr[.] has diverted attention from the president's historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency."

Significantly, Bannon did not mention the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or Trump's daughter, Ivanka, in his apology.  And he didn't claim he was misquoted by Wolff or that his words were taken out of context.  His words fell like hammer blows on the White House and sent the political class into a frenzy.

Those who know Bannon are surprised that he even attempted an apology.  The controversial leader of the anti-establishment forces is, like Trump, a fighter, and the idea that he would deliver a mea culpa is alien to his personality, say his friends.

But Bannon found himself in more trouble than he could have possibly imagined and hesitated for a critical six days after the story broke before "clarifying" his statements to Wolff.  While Trump and many of his aides raged against him publicly and privately, Bannon remained silent.

This delay doomed the Breitbart editor and may significantly alter the landscape for Republicans in the 2018 midterms.


"The problem for Steve is that we were already into January 2018, and he doesn't really have a system, he doesn't have a fund, he doesn't have a political team," said Matthew Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, whose wife works in the White House communications department.  "Now it's going to take extra time to make things up, if he's able to, and repair the trust he had with the president.  The clock is no longer on his side."

A Republican pollster and operative with close ties to the White House marveled at the terrible timing of Bannon's feud with Trump.  "It happens after taxes, before the Camp David meeting this weekend," the operative said, noting that McConnell and Ryan were both spending quality time with Trump during the peak of his Bannon frustration, shortly after celebrating their first big legislative victory.  "He couldn't have picked a worse day on the calendar for this to happen. The swamp won."

The "swamp" may have won a battle, but the GOP civil war will continue to rage.  "Establishment" forces are declaring victory after the McConnell-Ryan-Trump Camp David meeting this weekend, but if Trump has shown anything over the last year, it is his unpredictability and his ability to turn on people on a dime.  Any thoughts that McConnell-Ryan have "won" are incredibly premature.

But that won't help Bannon. 

Bannon's influence, the operative predicted, will be zilch in the coming 2018 midterms, with no recruitment plan or financial backing to offer establishment-challenging outsider candidates.  The operative, who has polled Bannon's name ID in states like Alabama, said his image was 40 percent positive, 20 percent negative among Republican primary voters before the feud.  "Now he's going to be 20 to 40 – or worse," the operative predicted. 

Even before Fire and Fury excerpts were released, Bannon had failed to recruit viable candidates to run against establishment politicians in most of the important races.  Now that the Mercers have abandoned him, he will either have to find another angel to fund his efforts or get down in the trenches and raise money like everyone else.

The latter prospect does not bode well for Bannon's chances of success.  We are just a few months away from the GOP primaries, and with Trump making noises about supporting incumbents, the leader of the guerrilla movement to change the Republican Party may come up short.