WASHINGTON, Jan 6, (AP): President Donald Trump wants people to know he’s “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.” He’s taking to Twitter to defend his mental fitness and boast about his intelligence. It’s his latest pushback against a book that portrays him as a leader who doesn’t understand the weight of the presidency. In the book, former aide Steve Bannon questions Trump’s competence. Trump’s having none of it. He says critics are “taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence.” Trump says “my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.” He says going from successful businessman to reality TV star to president on his first try “would qualify as not smart, but genius …. and a very stable genius at that!”
Meanwhile, the acrimony surrounding former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s very public break with President Trump is escalating, suggesting a permanent split between the president and the pugilistic strategist who helped put him in the Oval Office. The new fissure in an already fractious Republican Party cast doubt on Bannon’s hopes to foment a movement centered on “Trumpism without Trump.” It already has cost him a key backer.
Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire GOP donor and Breitbart co-owner, issued a statement Thursday distancing her family from Bannon. “I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected,” she said. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements.” Trump hailed that move on Twitter Friday, saying: “The Mercer Family recently dumped the leaker known as Sloppy Steve Bannon. Smart!”
White House officials described the president as furious at Bannon’s criticisms, laid out in an explosive new book that quoted the former aide as questioning Trump’s competence and describing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” On Twitter Thursday night, Trump said the book was full of “lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist.” He also came up with a new nickname for Bannon: “Sloppy Steve.” A parade of administration officials and allies worked to discredit Bannon as a disgruntled has-been.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went so far as to suggest that Bannon ought to be booted from Breitbart, the populist website he helps run. “I certainly think that it’s something they should look at and consider,” she said. Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” spoke on NBC’s “Today Show” Friday, defending his reporting and saying the president’s efforts to halt publication have been good for sales. Asked about Bannon’s comments in the book and in recent days, Wolff said: “The president has tried to put this, this book is about Steve Bannon. So let me say very forthrightly: This book is not about Steve Bannon. This book is about Donald Trump.” Bannon had helped Trump form a coalition of antiestablishment Republicans, blue-collar working class and economic nationalists that launched him to the White House, but Trump had long ago grown frustrated that Bannon seemed to be overstepping his role as a staffer. The self-appointed keeper of Trump’s nationalist flame during the president’s first six months in office, Bannon had soured on the president even before he was pushed out of the White House for feeding the perception that he was Trump’s puppeteer.
None of Bannon’s close associates was willing to speak publicly about the fallout but privately conceded that the explosive comments may forever tarnish his brand. Bannon’s political appeal had been deeply tied to the perception that he was an ally of Trump’s. Those close to Bannon feared that the connection had been permanently severed.
Bannon was preparing to launch a nonprofit organization designed to help give Trump’s brand of conservatism populism a permanent base. It’s unclear how Bannon’s new rift with the president, and the related impact on major donors, will affect the organization, dubbed Citizens of the American Republic. Current and former White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations, said Bannon had miscalculated by attacking the president and his family. Much of Bannon’s political clout, they argue, stemmed from the assumption that he was acting with the imprimatur of the president, even if Trump wasn’t visibly in lockstep. Some Trump allies also expressed satisfaction that Bannon appeared to be finally cast out of the president’s inner circle. “Bannon has no contingent,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Wednesday between media interviews to defend Trump. On Thursday, Gingrich echoed Trump’s charge that Bannon had “lost his mind.” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime punching bag for Bannon, reveled in the aide’s break with the president. “I’d like to associate myself with what the president had to say about Steve Bannon yesterday,” he said mischievously Thursday.
Since leaving the White House, Bannon spent much of his time courting donors to help finance his selfdeclared war on the Republican establishment. He vowed to find Republican challengers for virtually every GOP senator seeking election this fall, chiefly for the purpose of electing candidates who would remove McConnell as majority leader. Bannon publicly backed conservative challengers in Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Mississippi and New York, where House challenger Michael Grimm issued a statement denouncing the ex-adviser’s comments as “baseless attacks” that were “beyond disturbing.” Others who have received boosts from Bannon, including Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and potential Mississippi Senate challenger Chris McDaniel, were more circumspect, wary of alienating either faction of the party’s insurgent grassroots. “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” quickly shot atop Amazon’s best-seller list, and the publisher moved up its release date by four days, to Friday.