Upon receiving the press release Wednesday afternoon, I let out an audible groan: Steve Bannon, the former Trump consigliere, fascist propagandist, and failed documentary filmmaker would be the big top-of-show interview guest on Bill Maher’s popular HBO series Real Time Friday night.
Having interviewed Bannon in the past, including a fairly heated three-hour back and forth in his lux Venetian hotel suite that lasted into the wee hours, I know how much of a charismatic charmer he can be, which, in addition to his serving as a valued source for so many White House reporters, is a big reason why he’s been subject to so many fawning profiles. Such cajoling can easily work on Maher, who not only loves having his colossal ego massaged but has found common ground with everyone from alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to, well, Steve Bannon, who talked circles around the late-night comedian during his last Real Time appearance.
Which brings us to Friday night.
Following an impeachment-heavy monologue (“I feel like Nancy Pelosi’s copy of the State of the Union…”), and calling it Trump’s “best week ever” following his acquittal by the Senate, Maher welcomed Bannon, who’s recently made headlines for pushing debunked claims about the spread of the coronavirus, onto the show, airing live while the Democratic debate in New Hampshire was still ongoing. And, well, things got weird.
First question? “I’m not gonna lie about it, your boy had the best week so far.” (Yes, that was really the opening question.)
After allowing Bannon to gloat a bit, Maher—referring to Bannon as a “student of history”—interjected, asking, whether anything this week in Trumpworld bothered him, including the firing of Vindman, calling Romney a “suppressive person” (Maher’s words), bragging about how he wouldn’t have been in office if he hadn’t fired FBI Director Comey, etc.
“We should’ve had a longer impeachment. We should’ve had Bolton, we should’ve had Mulvaney…witnesses, let ‘em get crossed, but we get the whistleblower, we get the second whistleblower, we get Schiff as a factor in this, let’s get it all out.” said Bannon, adding, that this is “about going after the office of the president,” and if Bernie gets elected, the “neoliberal, neocon national-security apparatus” will go after him, too. (Though Bernie has not, like Trump, committed a number of crimes whilst in office.)
Bannon also rambled on about Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia—forwarding the (debunked) right-wing conspiracy theory that the investigation was politically motivated—but Maher instead changed the subject, and instead of breaking down and exposing Bannon’s arguments for how empty they are, chose to focus on Trump’s bad words, and Bannon successfully steered the talk elsewhere, as is his wont.
They agreed that Trump will “run the table” and be re-elected, and that the Democrats are incredibly “arrogant,” and that Hillary “should have gone to Wisconsin,” but lightly tussled over the merits of the Electoral College.
And Bannon, playing three-dimensional chess, admitted that he likes Bernie because he’s a “populist,” and that Bernie’s been “screwed by the Democratic Party,” to which Maher politely agreed. The two then shared some laughs going at it over the debt, discussed the silly names Trump’s called Bannon (he deflected once more), and then Maher allowed Bannon to deliver his closing statement, uninterrupted, before remarking, “I wish we had someone on our side as evil as you, Steve.” Pathetic.
Maher has made it plainly clear that he is unequipped to handle such incendiary figures on his program. So, why does he do it? Ratings? Controversy? Or both?