After Steve Bannon poked the president in the eye, Donald Trump punched the populist in the throat, threw him to the ground, and finished him off by breaking a chair over his old friend’s broken back. All metaphorically, of course. The White House just released a press release.
The 266-word screed was brutal — Trump says Bannon “lost his mind.” It was comprehensive — Trump blames Bannon for everything from the Alabama Senate loss to the White House leaks. It probably isn't completely false, but it is a complete miscalculation. Trump should not punch down from the Oval Office.
By responding publicly to Bannon’s claim that Donald Trump Jr. committed treason when he met with the Russians during the campaign, the White House has all but endorsed of the veracity of that charge.
If the treason charge isn’t true, the smart move is to let it burn bright then flame out like so many other fake news stories. There is no reason for the leader of the free world to go after a garbage accusation when North Korea is on the verge of going nuclear and Republican majorities are about to go up in smoke. The president has better things to do. But if the charge is true, some sort of political response is in order.
At most, Bannon deserved a tweet, not a broadside from the administration (POTUS has plenty of media friends who will do the dirty work for him). But instead, Trump just elevated the Michael Wolff book which isn’t even written, making certain that treason stays viral.
Like so many things, this isn’t how normal White Houses operate. When former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan decided to write a tell-all, Dana Perino responded with a brief but no less brutal 80-word statement:
Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad – this is not the Scott we knew. The book, as reported by the press, has been described to the President. I do not expect a comment from him on it – he has more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers.
Of course, Trump didn’t do this. He took Bannon’s bait and swung broadly. The punch landed but now the White House has its feet crossed.