Oops: Steve Bannon blows it with interview he thought was off the record

Steve Bannon is many things, all of them awful, some of them uniquely awful. But here’s what he’s not: naive or stupid. So it almost defies explanation that Bannon called up a liberal reporter the other day to shoot the breeze, saying some vaguely controversial things in the process, and he now claims that he thought the entire thing was off the record. There’s got to be more to this than meets the eye.

Here’s what happened. Steve Bannon called up Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect, and the two discussed a wide range of issues. Bannon said that he agreed with Kuttner’s position that we need a trade war with China. Bannon also referred to white supremacists as a “collection of clowns.” This seemed to suggest that he’s merely been using white supremacists all these years, both at Breitbart and in the Trump White House, as pawns for his own ambition. Kuttner published the whole thing as an interview (link). And now Bannon is asserting through colleagues that he thought it was an off the record conversation (link). This is beyond bizarre.

Sure, the same thing happened to Bannon’s rival Anthony Scaramucci just weeks ago. But Scaramucci was new to politics, naive about how political journalists never give an inch on these things unless they have to, and didn’t know enough to set terms with the reporter at the outset. In contrast, Bannon isn’t new to politics, he isn’t naive about these kinds of things, and in fact he spent years working in political journalism. He knows better, and he doesn’t make mistakes like this. So what gives?

I’ve seen political operatives put controversial things out there with the intention of claiming it was supposed to have been off the record, so they can get their message across while maintaining a bit of deniability. But that doesn’t seem to fit with any of what Bannon said. It’s also possible that he’s trying to get himself fired, and he decided to repeat Scaramucci’s mistake on purpose. But if that were the case, he might have decided to be more controversial with his words. Then there’s the possibility that Bannon, under immense job pressure and now in Donald Trump’s dog house, is simply so rattled that he finally made a careless mistake.

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