White House chief strategist Steve Bannon branded the white nationalists who rallied in Charlottesville as "clowns" on Wednesday, in a phone conversation likened to Anthony Scaramucci's infamous interview with the New Yorker.
In a wide-ranging, unsolicited interview with small left-leaning magazine The American Prospect, the former CEO of right-wing Breitbart News website argued the US was in an "economic war" with China, dismissed Donald Trump's vow to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea, and talked of daily "fighting" within the government.
Mr Bannon, an economic nationalist, is reported to be on shaky ground with Mr Trump, who gave him only a tepid endorsement this week.
The frank, freewheeling telephone interview drew comparisons with the one Mr Scaramucci, the former White House communications director, gave to the New Yorker shortly before he was fired.
"This isn't as profane as Scaramucci but otherwise it's the same transgression. If he's not fired, he's bulletproof," Washington Post contributor Daniel Drezner tweeted.
Do we think Bannon pulled a Scaramucci (i.e. accidentally blurted stuff not knowing rules) or was this deliberate? https://t.co/9TJDZocbBx
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) August 17, 2017
"Just read the Bannon interview with the Prospect. It's truly extraordinary. His version of Scaramucci's call to Lizza," Axios reporter Jonathan Swan said.
Like Mr Scaramucci, Mr Bannon reportedly did not realise the conversation was on the record. “Apparently Bannon never thought that the journalist might take his (very newsworthy) comments and turn them into a story,” Swan reported.
Prospect said that Bannon had never specified that the interview was off the record. Mr Bannon has yet to comment on the report.
During the interview, the senior White House adviser talked about the storm over Mr Trump's defensive response to deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia at the weekend.
Far from defending the president, Mr Bannon spoke with disdain about the white nationalist movement he helped cultivate as a former head of Breitbart.
"Ethno-nationalism - it's losers. 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," he was quoted as saying.
"These guys are a collection of clowns."
He also said the administration's focus should be on China.
"To me the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that," he said.
"If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover," he said.
Mr Bannon was dismissive of Mr Trump's vow to bring down "fire and fury" on North Korea if it continued to threaten the United States with missiles and nuclear weapons.
"There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it," he said. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
According to the interview, Mr Bannon described his fight within the administration to take a harder line against China's trade practices, and not fall into the trap of hoping China would play the role of honest broker in restraining North Korea.
"We're at economic war with China," he said. "It's in all their literature. They're not shy about saying what they're doing.
In his own words | Steve Bannon
"One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it's gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they're just tapping us along. It's just a sideshow."
Of his adversaries in the State Department, Treasury and Defence who want to enlist China's help, Mr Bannon said "they're wetting themselves" - and named Mr Trump's chief economic advisor Gary Cohn as one of his foes.
"That’s a fight I fight every day here,” he said. “We’re still fighting. There’s Treasury and Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying.
“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”