Former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s public spat with Donald Trump is escalating, suggesting a permanent split between the US president and the strategist who helped put him in the Oval Office.
The new fissure in an already fractious Republican Party cast doubt on Mr Bannon’s hopes of fomenting a movement centred on “Trumpism without Trump”.
White House officials described the president as furious at Mr Bannon’s criticisms, laid out in a new book which quotes the former aide as questioning Mr Trump’s competence, and describing a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jnr, Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”.
Mr Trump claims the book was full of “lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist” and has started to call Bannon “Sloppy Steve”.
A parade of administration officials and allies are vying to discredit Mr Bannon as a disgruntled has-been. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went so far as to suggest he ought to be axed from Breitbart, the right-wing website he helps run.
Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, defended his reporting and said the president’s efforts to halt publication were good for sales.
He also spoke of how White House aides see the president as a “child” who needs “immediate gratification”.
He said his book was based on about 200 interviews. The president said he never spoke to the writer – but Mr Wolff said the pair spent three hours together. Mr Trump’s lawyers had tried to block publication of Fire and Fury, alleging it contained many falsehoods, and saying they were considering pursuing libel charges.
The president tweeted on Friday that the “phony new book” was being pushed by the media and others to hurt him. He added: “They should try winning an election. Sad!”
Mr Wolff said that White House staff described the president as childlike because “he has the need for immediate gratification. It’s all about him… This man does not read, does not listen. He’s like a pinball just shooting off the sides.”
Mr Wolff’s book has shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list, and the publisher brought its release date forward by four days, to yesterday.
Mr Bannon had helped Mr Trump form a coalition of anti-establishment Republicans, blue-collar working class and economic nationalists that launched him to the White House, but Mr Trump had long ago grown frustrated that Mr Bannon seemed to be overstepping his role.