Amid a flood of reports detailing division among the upper echelon of his White House, President Trump on Tuesday night refused to firmly back his controversial chief strategist, Steve Bannon – going so far as to minimize Bannon’s role in the underdog presidential campaign.
Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart News, served as the Trump campaign’s CEO during the final, successful push to Election Day. But philosophical differences with other top Trump advisers – including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – have dominated recent reports, coming in the wake of the failure of several Bannon-favored initiatives, such as Trump’s travel ban, which has been stalled twice in the courts.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told The New York Post. “I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
Ostensibly referring to last weekend’s Kushner-Bannon powwow, which Fox News reported was organized to mend fences between the key aides, Trump said: “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
Bannon, a far-right hero trusted by Trump’s base, came aboard a waterlogged Trump campaign on Aug. 17. The day before his involvement was announced, a pair of Washington Post polls showed Trump losing Virginia and Florida to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by sizeable margins.
At the time, Trump was suffering from numerous self-inflicted wounds – such as a war-of-words with a Gold Star family – and was facing defections from many congressional Republicans. Bannon, along with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, helped orient Trump to a more offensive footing ahead of the November victory.