White House chief strategist Steve Bannon spoke to a left-wing journalist on Tuesday — evidently not suspecting the conversation was an interview or on the record — and it was published on Wednesday in The American Prospect, a liberal online magazine.
During the course of the conversation, Bannon ruminated about China, North Korea, trade policy, and his rivals in the White House. Bannon even suggested he was working on removing one of them.
Bannon's critics, eager to see his blood in the political water, pounced.
Bannon gave an "accidental interview," they said, just like Anthony Scaramucci, the disgraced former communications director at the White House. Bannon also undermined President Donald Trump on North Korea policy, the pundits cried.
But in reality, the accidental interview — if it was indeed that, and not a Bannon scheme to turn the national debate away from Confederate monuments back to issues — showed Bannon was happy with where the Trump agenda was going, and that he stood behind it.
Bannon even mocked both Trump's trade critics — he said they were "wetting" themselves — and called white supremacists "clowns."
Most tellingly, Bannon stressed he is happy with the increasingly tough stance Trump has taken in regard to China on trade. He promised a skeptical eye would remain focused on China and its economic practices.
"We're at economic war with China," Bannon told Robert Kuttner, a left-wing journalist who specializes in liberal trade policy. "It's in all their literature. They're not shy about saying what they're doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it's gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they're just tapping us along. It's just a sideshow."
"To me, the economic war with China is everything and we have to be maniacally focused on that."
Bannon said the Trump White House must be laser-focused on China and the trade imbalance.
"To me, the economic war with China is everything," said Bannon. "And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover."
Bannon has only two potential problems. One was his admission — surprisingly candid — that there is no military solution to the North Korean problem. But that's because South Korea's capital is perilously close to major North Korean artillery and most military experts agree there is no scenario in which war does not result in massive casualties.
"There's no military solution [to North Korea's nuclear threats], forget it," Bannon told Kuttner. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about, there's no military solution here, they got us."
Bannon also bashed those he believes are out to undermine the true Trump agenda in the White House. As chief strategist for Trump, he said he's working on moving or sidelining his foes such as Gary Cohn, the president's economic adviser and chair of the National Economic Council.
"Oh, they're wetting themselves," Bannon said of tactics used to strong-arm internal foes. "I'm changing out people at East Asian Defense. I'm getting hawks in. I'm getting Susan Thornton [acting head of East Asian and Pacific Affairs] out at State."
Bannon told Kuttner he is battling Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, and other monied big shots — every day.
"That's a fight I fight every day here," he said. "We're still fighting. There's Treasury and [National Economic Council chair] Gary Cohn and Goldman Sachs lobbying. We gotta do this. The president's default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy. Don't get me wrong. It's, like, every day."