President Trump offered only tepid support for Steve Bannon when asked Tuesday if he still had confidence in the political strategist amid reports of unbridled White House infighting.
In a brief exchange with New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin, Trump declined to offer his unreserved support for Bannon and downplayed the former Breitbart News chief’s role in his presidential campaign.
“I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told Goodwin.
“I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve,” he continued, referring to his myriad of primary opponents last year. “I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump similarly downplayed Bannon’s role, referring to his chief strategist as “a guy who works for me.”
Last August, Bannon left his position as executive chair of the right-wing Breitbart News to become CEO of Trump’s White House bid, alongside campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, in a shakeup that replaced Paul Manafort at the helm of the campaign. The hiring of Bannon was highly controversial, as he was already a provocative figure who once described his own site as the “platform for the alt-right,” a movement derided by critics as a rebranding of white nationalism.
After the inauguration, Trump sparked more controversy by keeping Bannon on board as his chief political strategist. But Bannon has reportedly been feuding with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and trusted adviser. Multiple reports suggest that the White House has split into two warring camps: populist firebrands like Bannon who want Trump to stay true to his base, and more moderate pragmatists like Kushner and the director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn.
A senior official recently told the Daily Beast that Bannon ranted about Kushner being a “globalist.” And a Trump ally told Yahoo News that Cohn has been called “Globalist Gary” by some administration officials and Capitol Hill Republicans.
Rather than quash the rumors of tension in the White House, Trump told Goodwin that it needed to be addressed.
“Steve is a good guy,” Trump said, “but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”
The turmoil occurs as the White House approaches Trump’s 100-day mark without a signature legislative accomplishment. The Republican-led push to repeal and replace Obamacare crashed and burned, but Trump insists that negotiations are ongoing. And Trump’s travel ban for people from several Muslim-majority countries has been stymied by the courts.
During a Wednesday morning event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., White House press secretary Sean Spicer dismissed media reports of a Bannon-Kushner feud.
“I think a lot of it is overblown, what you see in the media. The president has brought together an unbelievably talented team of successful individuals,” Spicer said. “It’s the same team, in a lot of ways, that had a very successful campaign. I think sometimes you see some of that spill over in the public and that’s unfortunate, because there’s going to be on policy a very spirited debate.”
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