The ‘Guilty as Sin’ Theory
Of course, trashing Trump and his family now would make a lot more sense if Bannon is playing a long game and knows something that we don’t: that Robert Mueller or someone else is going to expose the sort of collusion with Russia or other wrongdoing that will implicate the president, or at least his inner circle. If Trump is going to be exposed, or if Don Jr., Jared Kushner, or someone else in the inner circle is so dirty or corrupt that they’re going to have to take a fall for behavior that will itself alienate a large part of the #MAGA base, then perhaps it is savvy for Bannon to get out ahead of that information by positioning himself as a critic of the corruption rather than a party sullied by it.
This is the only theory that strikes me as likely to end with Bannon in a stronger position as a result of his actions. But it doesn’t explain why he would make such a break through a journalist rather than by attacking Trump at Breitbart.
The ‘Joker’ Theory
In this telling, some people just want to watch the world burn, and Bannon is one of them. This theory could explain a whole lot of otherwise mystifying behavior. But Bannon’s past behavior has been ambitious and calculating, not impulsive and chaotic.
The Great Betrayal Theory
If Steve Bannon emerges as the campaign manager for a Sarah Palin 2020 primary challenge to Donald Trump, or chief of staff in Mike Pence’s post-impeachment White House, credit this theory. But don’t bet on an outcome like that.
The ‘He’s Running’ Theory
Mike Allen is among those who reports that Bannon has his own presidential ambitions. But even if that is so, how would this advance that against-all-odds goal?
The In-Over-His-Head Theory
In this telling, Bannon was in over his head in the White House, tried to use a reporter to prosecute his feuds with West Wing rivals for power, showed extreme indiscipline and lack of strategic acumen in what he said, and is now reaping the whirlwind of his shortsighted blabbing as his words are selectively quoted, with months of the most provocative tidbits strung together in a manner that makes it seem like the extremity of his critique was less unwitting than it was.
Or, as one of my Twitter followers put it, “It’s tempting to look for some complex motivation involving power or money. Most likely, it's just good old fashioned pettiness.” If forced to bet that’s how I’d wager—but I’m glad I’m not forced to bet.
Maybe we’ll know more about Bannon’s motives one day—or maybe the mystery will endure. But one thing is certain, as Josh Barro reminded his readers:
Remember, it was Trump's choice to make Bannon the CEO of his presidential campaign. Then Trump named Bannon his chief strategist and senior counselor—much the same position held by Karl Rove and David Axelrod in the Bush and Obama White Houses, respectively—with the added declaration that Bannon would be an "equal partner" to Reince Priebus, then the chief of staff designate. Upon taking office, Trump even named Bannon as a member of the National Security Council.
The man charged with staffing the White House, assessing foreign leaders, and making lifetime appointments appears to be a spectacularly bad judge of character. And so does the former adviser who helped tout Trump in that position.
They deserve each other—and Americans deserves better.