The main character in Michael Wolff’s book isn’t Donald Trump it’s Steve Bannon: The book begins with Bannon having dinner with Roger Ailes and ends with Bannon standing on the steps in front of the Breitbart townhouse in Washington explaining the next move in his war on ‘The Swamp.’
Bannon’s story twists and turns: A successful documentary filmmaker he’d helped co-found the Breitbart website but he’d never worked in a political campaign until one of Breitbart’s investors, Rebekah Mercer, told Donald Trump she and her father would contribute $5 million if Trump would make Bannon his campaign manager.
The morning Bannon walked into Trump Tower, the way Wolff tells it, no one in Trump’s campaign believed Trump could win except Bannon – and looking back, after Trump did win, to Bannon it was clear he’d masterminded a feat of political genius.
An ideologue – who believed without doubt ‘The Swamp’ had ravaged the Working Class to make the rich richer – Bannon walked into the White House on a crusade but ran head-on into two obstacles: Reince Priebus (knee-deep in The Swamp) and Jared Kushner (breathing the same air as New York billionaires). Bannon also knew one other fact: The man he’d elected President wasn’t an ideologue like him. But he’d just pulled off one political feat so, without blinking, he set to pull off another by defrocking Kushner and Priebus. Instead, as he struggled, he watched his power wane. Kushner urged Trump to hire Scaramucci, Bannon said no, and Trump hired Scaramucci. After that the dominos fell swiftly: Priebus was out, Scaramucci self-destructed, then Bannon found himself out too.
Bruised but still standing Bannon returned to Breitbart where he announced he was going to go on leading the crusade himself – but, needing to stay in Trump’s good graces, he carefully added he would be fighting The Swamp to help Trump.
Next he and Trump landed on different sides in the Alabama Senate Primary and the unexpected happened: Trump’s candidate lost. And Bannon had another vision: He told Wolff with Kushner calling the shots in the White House Trump’s future was bleak – that Trump could be forced to resign or could be impeached or could limp to the finish line and serve out his first term but, whatever happened, Trump wasn’t going to be running for President in 2020 – and, according to Wolff, by the time he interviewed Bannon that fall, standing on the Breitbart steps, Bannon was already telling people he was going to take Trump’s place and run for President himself in 2020.
Is Wolff’s tale true? Who can say? But, after Wolff published his book, in one swift stroke Trump eviscerated Bannon, branding him ‘Sloppy Steve’ and sending him into exile.
So, in a way, being called to testify before a House Committee must have seemed to Bannon like a last hope falling into his lap: The Committee had handed him a way back into Trump’s good graces – all he had to do was what the White House asked: Bannon walked into the committee hearing, sat down, and refused to answer a single question about why Trump fired James Comey.
But if you look at what happened to Steve Bannon another way, he’d simply marched in a circle. He still needed Trump for his crusade. But Trump was no crusader.