WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump likes to portray himself as a brawler who, when hit, is quick with a counterpunch.
Trump learned what it feels like when someone else punches back Wednesday after Steve Bannon, the onetime White House chief strategist whom Trump fired, minced no words bashing the president and his family.
Of course, Trump then hit back with a statement asserting that when Bannon was fired, “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
The out-in-the-open war of words showed “a level of bathos that you just don’t expect to ever see in the Oval Office,” researcher Ken Hughes of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center said.
The drama began with the publication of excerpts from a soon-t0-be-released book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff.
The Guardian reported that Bannon told Wolff that a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya bordered on being “treasonous” or “unpatriotic” — and was stupid to boot.
Bannon predicted that the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign would “crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Bannon also described Kushner’s financial dealings as “greasy” and opined that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was “all about money laundering,” and a trail that could end at Trump Tower.
In short, Bannon hit Trump as Trump often hits others.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called the book “trashy, tabloid fiction.”
“I know that the book has a lot of things, so far of what we’ve seen, that are completely untrue,” she told the White House press corps.
Of the comments about Donald Trump Jr., Sanders said, “I would certainly think that going after the president’s son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody.”
Other excerpts of Wolff’s book published in New York magazine portray a Trump family convinced Trump would lose the 2016 election and shocked by his victory. Melania Trump, Wolff writes, “was in tears — and not of joy.”
The first lady’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, responded, “The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section. Mrs. Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for President and in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”
Trump’s return salvo portrayed Bannon as having little influence on the election outcome or White House strategy.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said. Trump also hit Bannon for leaking “false information” to the media, “to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well.”
Republican National Committee research director Mike Reed sent an email to reporters that assailed Wolff’s “long history of making stuff up.” The email linked to articles in which other journalists questioned Wolff’s methods and judgment.
“I think we all knew the love affair (between Trump and Bannon) wasn’t going to last forever,” said Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and CNN contributor. “This is another case of someone crossing Trump and he hits back 10 times harder. This is the most recent case of that. I think we haven’t seen the last of the insults traded back and forth.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.