Bannon’s Battle Plan

A couple of weeks after the election, Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said this to Kimberly Strassel:

I never went on TV one time during the campaign. Not once. You know why? Because politics is war. General Sherman would never have gone on TV to tell everyone his plans. I’d never tip my hand to the other side. And right now we’ve got work to do.

One week into the Trump administration, we have a pretty good idea of the battle plan Bannon has been cooking up. Not only did he and Steven Miller write Trump’s combative inaugural address, according to reporting by Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim, they have written the series of executive orders that the president has signed this week, as well as those that have been leaked to the press.

While their plan is an attempt to show an appearance of momentum, it’s not hard to see Bannon’s fingerprints on things like restricting Muslim refugees and immigrants from entering the U.S., the announcement that the administration will be tracking and publicizing individual incidents of crime by undocumented immigrants, attempts to cripple the U.N. and policies that will be a great recruitment tool for ISIS. It is a white nationalist Islamophobic dream come true.

The problem is that apparently Bannon and Miller haven’t consulted with Trump’s cabinet nominees, the federal agencies involved or members of Congress on any of these plans. That means that many of them might be “unworkable, unenforceable or even illegal.”

The backlash that has been unleashed, along with an obsession with the results of the election that placed Trump in the White House, have led Mr. Bannon to be more than a little bit combative – as he demonstrated in an interview with the New York Times.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”…

“The elite media got it dead wrong, 100 percent dead wrong,” Mr. Bannon said of the election, calling it “a humiliating defeat that they will never wash away, that will always be there.”…

“That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”

Obviously Bannon shares Trump’s world view that assumes every interaction involves either dominating or being dominated. He thinks he can humiliate the press by pointing out how they got the election wrong and telling them to keep their mouths shut. Obviously that isn’t going to happen. But it’s telling to hear someone who assumes he can outsmart his opponents say something that exposes how obsessed they are and how much the reaction to these first few days of Trump’s presidency has unsettled them.

Keep in mind that when Bannon goes to war with the press and labels them the “opposition party,” what fuels that is the media doing a pretty good job of reporting actual facts. As Ezra Klein wrote a few days ago:

Trump lives off media attention and delights in press coverage. His war is with facts. And it’s there that his tactical skirmishes with the press begin to make sense. Delegitimizing the media is important to Trump because delegitimizing certain facts is important to Trump.

Bannon’s battle plan is not to make the press the opposition party. It is to go to war with facts.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.