Witcover: Steve Bannon Out; Stephen Miller in

Former White House advisor Stephen Bannon stepped down from Breitbart News on Tuesday.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon is out as boss of the Breitbart News website, despite his pledge of continued allegiance to the president.

That pledge followed the hullabaloo around Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," which contained numerous scathing comments attributed to Mr. Bannon about President Donald Trump and members of his family. Apparently, Mr. Bannon believed he could salvage some standing for himself in the conservative movement even after this latest fall from grace, but his dismissal from Breitbart puts that in question.


Meanwhile, another Trump true believer is being groomed for a larger, more visible role in selling Trumpism. Amid the growing questioning of the president's fitness for the office, Mr. Trump sent out another defender last Sunday morning to a prominent political talk show to continue his war on the news community and on cable network CNN in particular.

The White House is struggling to contain the national discussion about President Donald Trump's mental acuity and fitness, which has overshadowed its agenda.

Returning to his characteristic counterattack mode against his critics, the president dispatched his own hit man and senior policy adviser, the super-acerbic Stephen Miller, to CNN's "State of the Union" telecast hosted by Jake Tapper, the network's comparably acid-tongued moderator.


Mr. Miller tried his best to wrest control of the interview from Mr. Tapper by unleashing a nonstop vitriolic defense of his boss. His behavior, dripping with sarcasm, obliged the moderator finally to cut Mr. Miller off, talking over him and eventually going to a commercial break.

Mr. Tapper, obviously frustrated by Mr. Miller's transparent tactic, lashed out at him. He told his guest: "I let you give like a three-minute filibuster at the very top. ... I've wasted enough of my viewers' time." Mr. Miller complained that Mr. Tapper was trying to censor him, adding, "You should be ashamed of yourself" and lamenting that "you gave me (only) two minutes" on the show.

Jake Tapper moderates the Republican primary debate hosted by CNN, the University of Florida and the Washington Times.
Jake Tapper moderates the Republican primary debate hosted by CNN, the University of Florida and the Washington Times. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Mr. Tapper replied: "This is why they don't put you on TV," concluding with "Don't act all offended." Mr. Miller shot back: "I'm not acting offended, I am offended. I'm offended by you and I'm offended by your network," echoing Mr. Trump himself.

The president later tweeted, "Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump administration..." In the end, the interview was converted by the glib Mr. Miller into a well-orchestrated hijacking of politically valuable airtime, administering another dose of Donald Trump's war on his favorite cable news target.

Nevertheless, the Tapper vs. Miller confrontation, like the Bannon-attributed tirade about Mr. Trump's alleged unfitness for the presidency, was yet another diversion from the president's efforts to focus public attention on his strongest economic selling points — the rising stock market, lower unemployment rate and his success in passing tax reform.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump's unrelenting tweetstorms underscore his undiminished self-aggrandizements, such as his recent ludicrous contention that because he attended "the best colleges" — the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania — he qualifies as a genius.

The quote warrants repeating: "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart." He "went from VERY successful businessman to top star," he boasted. Having won the presidency on his first try, he added, "I think I would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!"

Such self-promotion shows the desperate need in the Trump administration to find another more deft and conciliatory spokesman than himself, or than the combative and insulting Mr. Miller. Both of them only deepen the animosity between the president and his White House press handlers and the reporters toiling to get honest answers from them. The departed press secretary Sean Spicer and the current spokesperson, the hostile and evasive Sarah Huckabee Sanders, would not be missed.

For Mr. Trump's own sake, if not for the sake of restoring a modicum of mutual respect and professional relations in the reporting of the president's communications with the American people, he needs to lower the confrontational temperature. The American public deserves as much, if not the increasingly frustrated and argumentative White House pressroom regulars.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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