- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2017

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon puzzled detractors who accuse him of racism this week by calling white nationalists “clowns” and “losers,” and people close to President Trump’s embattled adviser say his true political motivations actually have been pinpointed best by none other than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In her infamous campaign remarks in September 2016, Mrs. Clinton referred to half of Mr. Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables,” including racists and sexists who were “irredeemable.” But Mrs. Clinton went on, in a mostly forgotten portion of her comments, to describe other disaffected voters who support Mr. Trump.

“That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change,” Mrs. Clinton said. “They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

It’s that second basket of people who spur Mr. Bannon in his job, according to his allies.

“She was right about that,” a person close to Mr. Bannon said of Mrs. Clinton. “That’s economic, populist nationalism. That’s not race-based populism. That’s the difference between what Steve supports and what those people [white nationalists] support. You’ve seen our political enemies try to, in some cases successfully, conflate the two types of nationalism for their political gain.”

Mr. Bannon generated headlines twice this week, which is two more times than most presidents prefer their aides to make news. First, the former CEO of Breitbart News was blamed as Mr. Trump’s link to white nationalists who provoked a deadly clash with leftist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. There were plentiful calls for his firing.

Next, Mr. Bannon was quoted in an article in The American Prospect, seeming to undermine Mr. Trump’s threats of potential military action against North Korea and dishing on his internal battles over trade with the likes of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

“There’s no military solution here, they got us,” Mr. Bannon said of North Korea.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Thursday dismissed Mr. Bannon’s claims that there is no military solution to the conflict with North Korea.

“I don’t really have a comment on what Mr. Bannon’s remarks were in that particular interview. I read those,” Mr. Tillerson said. “I think we have been quite clear as to what the policy and posture towards North Korea is.”

 

Mr. Bannon also referred to white nationalists as a “fringe” group unworthy of the White House’s attention.

“Ethno-nationalism — it’s losers,” Mr. Bannon said. “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. These guys are a collection of clowns.”

Often praised for his media savvy, Mr. Bannon told associates later that he didn’t know his conversation with the journalist had been on the record. It’s the same explanation that former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci gave for an expletive-filled interview with a reporter; Mr. Scaramucci was fired a few days later.

Some China analysts said Mr. Bannon’s interview undermined Mr. Trump’s warning that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” for military action against North Korea.

“We do not know if he is really speaking for President Trump,” wrote Bill Bishop, a China consultant who publishes the “Sinocism” newsletter on Asian affairs. “If he is, perhaps the most damming revelations are that Trump’s threats of a military strike on North Korea are empty, and that the U.S. would consider a deal with China that would result in U.S. troops leaving South Korea. The Chinese suspect Trump is a paper tiger, if they believe Bannon speaks for him [then] any credibility Trump had with [his] threats about military pre-emption is gone.”

The Prospect article stated that Mr. Bannon “said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote.”

The White House wasn’t eager to discuss Mr. Bannon’s interview Thursday. A White House spokeswoman would say only that Mr. Bannon’s comments “stand on their own.”

The Drudge Report, which has been highlighting stories critical of Mr. Bannon, published a photograph of a solar eclipse on Thursday with the headline, “Total Eclipse of Steve Bannon.” Breitbart’s White House reporter, Charlie Spiering, tweeted “Drudge going for the kill.”

Mr. Trump didn’t exactly give Mr. Bannon a vote of confidence Tuesday, telling reporters that he likes his aide but declining to say his job was secure. He reiterated that Mr. Bannon joined his campaign “very late,” apparently still chafing at frequent media reports that credited Mr. Bannon for the president’s winning campaign strategy.

“I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

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