Toward the end of the 2016 presidential campaign when the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced on Donald Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, Trump adviser Steve Bannon urged the then-candidate to double down, because Americans “don’t care,” he said.
Bannon, who recently departed a White House advisory role to return to the far-right-wing website Breitbart News, recounted a meeting of Trump campaign officials after the tape’s release. While campaign chairman Reince Priebus urged Trump to “drop out right now, or you lose by the biggest landslide in American political history,” Bannon told him, “You have 100 percent probability of winning” and urged him to stand his ground, Bannon told Charlie Rose of 60 Minutes.
“Appealing to the American people and to the working class people in this country, absolutely. You know why? ‘Cause – it was a winner. That’s why I told him “double down” every time. And on that day, that’s the first time and only time he ever got upset with me. He goes, “Come on, it’s not 100 percent.” I go, “It’s absolutely 100 percent.” And I told him why. “They don’t care.”
Bannon also said the “Billy Bush weekend,” as he calls the weekend of the tape’s release, was a “litmus test.” “Billy Bush Saturday showed me who really had Donald Trump’s back to play to his better angels,” says Bannon. “All you had to do, and what he did, was go out and continue to talk to the American people. … People didn’t care. They knew Donald Trump was just doing locker room talk with a guy. And they dismissed it. It had no lasting impact on the campaign. Yet, if you see the mainstream media that day, it was, literally, he was falling into Dante’s Inferno.”
Who failed Bannon’s litmus test: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Bannon judged Christie’s post-tape support for Trump to be underwhelming, and he was punished as a result. “Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend, was not looked at for a Cabinet position,” he says.