In Fear (2018), veteran journalist Bob Woodward explores the inner workings of the Trump administration. His reporting paints a picture of a disturbingly dysfunctional White House, staffed by individuals who are constantly undermining one another, often in an effort to prevent diplomatic and economic catastrophes from unfolding.
Back in 2010, Steve Bannon was making political films to support the Tea Party, a right-wing populist movement that had taken American politics by surprise. That year, conservative pundit David Bossie took Bannon to meet Donald Trump, who was thinking of running for president as a Republican.
At the time, Bannon regarded the meeting as pointless. But he also found it highly entertaining, as Trump struggled to comprehend how his record of Democratic donations and pro-choice support could affect his chances as a Republican candidate. So, like many others, Bannon was surprised when Trump managed to secure the Republican nomination in the 2016 election.
By then, Bannon was running Breitbart News, an online outlet for far-right political commentary, and on August 13, 2016, he placed a call to Rebekah Mercer, one of Breitbart’s financial backers. Bannon saw that the Trump campaign was in trouble. That morning’s newspapers had Trump 20 points behind Clinton, and there were plenty of stories about the campaign being in disarray.
Indeed, Mercer told Bannon that Trump’s current campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was “a disaster.” She then advised Bannon to go meet with Trump and save the sinking boat. Mercer knew Trump was no stranger to Breitbart and that he liked and respected Bannon. Most of all, she knew Bannon was someone Trump would actually listen to.
Remarkably, with 85 days left before the general election, Bannon came on board and brought the campaign some much-needed focus. He laid out an easy-to-follow agenda centered around three things: immigration, jobs and foreign wars.
As Bannon saw it, these were the three areas where Trump’s stance differed most from Clinton’s. Soft on immigration, Clinton was both a globalist who would lose jobs to overseas competitors and part of the establishment that had resulted in too much military involvement on foreign soil. These were three positions she couldn’t defend, and as long as Trump kept hammering these points, he had a good chance of winning.
Sure enough, Bannon was right. But even Trump seemed surprised when the votes came in. He had spent zero time preparing a transition team or giving any thought to the 4,000 jobs that would need filling when he won. As Bannon put it, Clinton had spent her whole life preparing for the presidency; Trump didn’t spend one second.