Michael Wolff’s new book about the Donald Trump presidency, Fire and Fury, has exploded like an IED (Improvised Editorial Device) inside the Washington Beltway. It’s not that the book’s salacious tidbits are necessarily true. Many errors have already been called out, and Wolff was careful to give himself cover at the start of the book.
Wolf wrote: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. These conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in the accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
Oh, ok then.
But at this point, the contents of the book are not the story. It’s all about the fallout. That’s where we can see who are the winners and losers from the publication of a book that may be even less accurate than the infamous “Trump Dossier”.
One of the big losers is domestic harmony in the Trump family. President Trump clearly values his immediate family, and has given relatives roles in his administration. The book takes direct aim at inner family relations, in the most personal ways possible. It implies Donald Trump thinks his sons are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. That Trump’s daughter Ivanka questions her father’s abilities and makes fun of his hair.
That there are problems with the marriage between Trump and his wife Melania. And much, much more. It is a textbook for sowing distrust, hurt and debilitating miscommunications at the core of the administration.
The biggest single loser is Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon had already left the administration, but was still running the highly influential Breitbart news. He was also trying to lead a campaign to unseat Republican Congress members whom he thought were part of the “corrupt Washington swamp” and replace them with more members of the “Trump Army”. This failed spectacularly in the recent Alabama Senate race, in which Bannon’s candidate lost what had been a relatively safe Republican seat, to a Democrat.
In Fire and Fury, Bannon is quoted as implying that a meeting attended by one of Trump’s sons with Russians was potentially treasonous. These factors and others resulted in Trump strongly and openly criticising Bannon. That in turn led to Bannon being kicked out of Breitbart and losing important financial backers. Bannon apologised to Trump’s son and has not criticised Trump himself. Regardless, the Trump-Bannon break has meant some fracturing and deflation of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, and a weakening of Bannon.
The first winner is obviously Wolff, who stands to make millions from the book, thanks in large part to the free coverage President Trump gave him with his tweets and threatened injunction.
A much more important winner is China. With Bannon sidelined, one of the strongest voices pushing for “standing up to China” has been muted.
Bannon was consistent in questioning Chinese trade practices and expansionist policies, both of which he viewed as direct threats to the United States, and the “free world”. He was also heavily involved in trying new approaches to combating Islamist terror. As were many of the candidates he was supporting, and many of the writers he had at Breitbart. Beijing will be happy that Bannon has taken a hit.
Other big winners are the Democratic Party and the Republican establishment. Anything that hurts Trump is, of course, good for the Democrats, especially leading into the midterm elections. And anything that weakens the generals or key communicators of the Trump Republicans, like Bannon, is often good for the Republican establishment. From the point of view of MAGA supporters, this has been a great week for the DC swamp monsters.
However, counter-intuitively, another winner might be the prospects of a second term Donald Trump presidency. By getting this brutal and personal early on, it might sap opposition ammunition before 2020 and inure the public to this sort of attack. It also shears away people, like the kind of candidate supported by Bannon in Alabama, who might alienate traditional Republicans voters.
Fire and Fury isn’t particularly reliable, or groundbreaking, but it has amplified existing currents, and brought that turbulence to the surface. The book may have spurred Trump to openly lash out at Bannon, but he was already angry with him over Alabama, and more. And Bannon is not going to just disappear. The book highlights and exacerbates a political moment in time. But this week’s losers may be next election’s winners.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian’s North America Special Correspondent.