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Bob McCarthy: Probing the mind of Steve Bannon

Robert J. McCarthy

Steve Bannon had just left the private jet that ferried him to Prior Aviation on Wednesday for his rally appearance at the Jamison Road Vol. Fire Company in Elma.

A guy in Washington for whom Bannon used to work now calls him “Sloppy Steve.” And it appeared President Trump’s former top strategist had not encountered a razor for a while. But his expensive Barbour field coat indicated he wasn’t worried about getting through the weekend.

Bannon sat next to a reporter in the rear of an SUV limo, and asked where he worked. “The Buffalo News,” came the reply.

“Ha! The opposition party,” Bannon said, half-sneering, half-smiling.

For the next half hour, a mastermind of Trump’s improbable rise to the White House held court. He likes to talk – about his “economic nationalist” theories, and about Trump, even if the pair are no longer confidants.

Bannon recalled his first meeting with the future president in Trump Tower’s 25th floor board room back in 2010. Trump spewed forth on how to win a presidential primary, and especially about China.

“Man, he knows China,” Bannon said. “He knew chapter and verse in 2010 about China. I can’t have that conversation with five guys in Washington. They wouldn’t understand what he was talking about.”

The talk of the SUV turned to 2012, when Trump was thinking about running for governor. Bannon grunted a laugh. He didn’t say it, but the grunt basically said: “Yeah. As if that was going to happen.”

He delved into a stream of consciousness description of the economic nationalism in which Trump puts “America first.”

“The world is a series of commercial relationships, trade deals and capital markets in an American security guarantee,” he said. “Which now costs us $1 trillion a year and has the deplorables’ kids in Hindu Kush walking patrol, in the South China Sea on ships, and on the 38th parallel in Army divisions.”

Bannon still talks about the strategies that elected Trump in 2016 – including the art of the deal.

“He told Theresa May to overshoot your target on deals ... and get it done in six months,” he said of her Brexit negotiations. “The last thing he said to her was ‘be prepared to litigate.’ Trump always uses litigation as a weapon. Maybe that’s why two years later she’s got no deal.”

Even Trump’s personal 757 ‑ the one that cost $100 million, has gold faucets and makes Air Force One look like a crop duster – was part of the plan. Rolling into an airport hangar to greet the faithful, he said, it looked just like Air Force One.

Bannon came to Western New York to get out the Republican vote. That means he was campaigning for Rep. Chris Collins, suddenly in trouble while under federal indictment. Bannon knows the importance of his GOP retaining the House of Representatives; that impeachment is sure to follow should the Democrats win.

He also thinks Trump is finishing this campaign just as in 2016.

“Trump is an athlete; a scratch golfer,” he said about the president’s current campaign tour. “And he’s a closer, This is classic commit to the shot. Take dead aim.

“On the Democratic side what do you have? Hillary and Bill Clinton are wandering around on some speaking tour, lining their pockets trying to present herself for 2020,” he added. “Corey Booker and Kamala Harris are in Iowa, prepping their 2020 run, and you’ve got Pocahontas putting out her DNA test.”

As Bannon sees it, the Repubs are focused, the Dems are not.

But it’s still about Trump, and Bannon looks ahead to 2020. He sees former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg forging some kind of “unity party” in the same way as Abraham Lincoln and his relatively new Republicans in 1860.

Lock up the big states, so goes the theory, and you win.

“Bloomberg has plotted it all out, that a temporary unity party with not him, but with a guy like a Mitt Romney, or a Biden,” he said. “There will be a Republican and a Democrat on the ticket.”

He may have summed it up a few minutes earlier, while heading down Transit Road: “I love a good fight.”

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