New London native Joshua Green’s Steve Bannon book becomes a best-seller

Joshua Green (Matt Mendelsohn)
Joshua Green (Matt Mendelsohn)

You can now call New London native Joshua Green a #1 New York Times best-selling author.

Green wrote one of the most buzzed-about books out there right now, “Devil’s Bargain,” about Steve Bannon and his relationship with President Donald Trump. It’s earned pretty stellar reviews — but not from one interested party. The New York Times reported on Monday that Trump was “put off” by the book because it “lavished credit for Mr. Trump’s election on Mr. Bannon.”

As Green spoke with The Day on Wednesday, rumors were roiling that Bannon could be ousted from the White House — and those rumors just proved true Friday.

Green met Bannon in 2011, when Bannon was working on a documentary about Sarah Palin. Green wrote a profile of Bannon in 2015 for Bloomberg Businessweek, and it boasted the prescient headline “This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America” and the subhead “Steve Bannon runs the new vast right-wing conspiracy — and he wants to take down both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.”

Green graduated from New London High School in 1990 and from Connecticut College in 1994. Oh, and a fellow student at Conn College at that time? Sean Spicer.

Green, now a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, had previously been senior editor of The Atlantic, a political columnist for the Boston Globe and an editor at The Washington Monthly. He has discussed politics on such TV shows as “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on ABC and “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO.

And he just joined CNN part-time as a political analyst.

“Devil’s Bargain” follows Bannon through his various incarnations, not just his Brietbart years but his time in the military, as a Goldman Sachs investment banker and a Hollywood producer. It delves into such things as Bannon’s realization, when he was running a video-game company in Hong Kong, that he could mobilize hardcore gamers (“intense young men” who “disappeared for days or even weeks at a time in alternate realities”) in the alt-right movement. It explores his part in a research team’s digging into the Clinton Foundation’s financial backers for Peter Schweizer’s 2015 book “Clinton Cash” and how they got the mainstream media to write about that info, bringing potentially damning Clinton details to a broader audience.

Ultimately, Bannon was searching for a figure who could carry a populist right-wing message to the masses and into the White House, and Trump was that man.

The Day asked Green about Bannon's work with Trump and more, and excerpts of the conversation follow.

By the way, Green’s parents, Gary and Priscilla, still live here. His father is a retired theologian who was chairman of the religious studies department at Connecticut College. His mother was an English and Latin teacher at Waterford and then Stonington high schools. 

On rumors earlier this week that Bannon would be pushed out the White House:

“I never predict Trump. I learned that lesson early on. Anything could happen at any time to any person in his administration.”

More about the behind-the-scenes machinations:

“There’s a group of advisors in the White House who have been trying to push Bannon out almost from the beginning of the administration. So they’re the ones who tend to push these stories with reporters. But the basis of the latest round of Bannon-might-be-toast stories is mainly that he’s been feuding with H.R. McMaster, the national security advisor, and leaking to sympathetic reporters all sorts of nasty things about McMaster. And Trump, we know, gets very mad about leakers.

“The other sin Bannon had committed, I think, in the eyes of Trump or at least the people that want to manipulate him is being a part of the book, you know, being on the cover of the book, and thereby seeming as if he’s claiming credit for Trump’s win.”

On The New York Times’ report that Green’s book ticked off Trump:

“Yeah, that’s actually not that surprising. The thing we know about Trump is he hates to share credit, and he especially hates the narrative that emerged in the popular culture through ‘Saturday Night Live’ in particular but other places also that Bannon was the shadow president who was pulling Trump’s puppet strings. That doesn’t jibe well with Trump’s view of himself and his healthy ego. And so he punished Bannon for that back in February and March. Time magazine ran a cover about how Bannon was the great manipulator — they called him (that) — and I think there are folks in the White House who have gone out of their way to get Trump riled up about the book, in the hopes it would have the same effect and (Trump) would feel like Bannon needed to be punished for it.

“But if you listened to Trump during the news conference (Tuesday), everything he was saying was the sort of thing Bannon would say. So he didn’t sound like a guy who was about to push out his chief strategist, even if a lot of people are telling him he should.

“I think that’s why Bannon has survived for so long, because he and Trump really do think the same way.”

On how influential Bannon was in making Trump president:

“I don’t think Trump would have been elected without Bannon, both because Bannon is the guy that really had the political world view that Trump took up and because Bannon had spent all these years plotting and scheming through various organizations for how to tear down Hillary Clinton. Bannon actually had an effect on Clinton before he had an effect on Trump. Because one of his organizations was the Government Accountability Institute, which produced the ‘Clinton Cash’ book in the spring of 2015 that was so damaging to Clinton and sent off a lot of negative stories about her and her financial entanglements with questionable foreign donors that kind of dovetailed with the email story and became a constant source of negative coverage for her throughout the campaign.

“When Bannon took over last August, by dumb luck, she was Trump’s opponent, and so Bannon knew exactly where she was most vulnerable and could tell Trump how to attack her most effectively. Before Bannon took over the campaign, Trump was down something like eight points, I think, in the polls, and pretty much floundering. That began to change what Bannon showed up.” 

On Green’s initial impressions of Bannon:

“I work in Washington, where people tend to look like they walked out of the Brooks Brothers catalogue, very homogenous in the way they look, talk, think, and Bannon completely broke the mold. He was a hyperactive, disheveled, very charismatic guy who was clearly smart and well read and had some very interesting ideas that didn’t have representation in Washington at the time.” 

Green started out at Conn College as an economics major:

“But my economics advisor — a guy named Don Peppard, an economics professor — told me that, as an economist, I was a very good writer (he laughs), which I think was his polite way of saying, ‘You’re not going to be a very good economist. Maybe you ought to try this other thing.’”

After graduating with a double major in economics and English, Green headed out of Connecticut:

“I moved out to Boulder, Colorado, with, like, 10 guys from my rugby team at Connecticut College after we all graduated. It was out there that I fell into sports writing and music writing. I did everything except politics …

“I knew I liked writing and wanted to be a journalist, so I wound up going to Northwestern journalism school. While I was there, they have a semester in Washington program, which I did. They assign you to an actual newspaper that’s too small or too cheap to pay for a real, full-time Washington correspondent, so they use Northwestern students. I did that, really enjoyed it, became interested in politics in a way I never had been before.”

On his decision to cover politics:

“Politics was appealing because it was always new and different and interesting. There was an ever-changing cast of characters, and there were almost endless directions you can take it in. You can specialize in health care or economic policy or defense. You can write about campaigns and be a road warrior, if you want to do that. You can do long magazine pieces like I do. So it just seemed to have more dimensions than anything I had done up until that point.” 

On Sean Spicer when he and Green were both Conn College students:

“I have only the dimmest recollection of him as a sailing bro. He was on the sailing team, and he would wear the plaid shorts and the stinky boat shoes and the white baseball cap. That was the circa mid-90s Connecticut College uniform. I didn’t know him well at the time. I’ve since gotten to know him better. We crossed paths many times on the campaign trail and reminisced about Connecticut College. … This was during the campaign, Spicer was sort of bemused by the fact that a lot of Connecticut College alumni were very upset about his role in the Trump campaign.” 

More on Trump’s Tuesday press conference:

“You can bottle him up for a little while, you can coach him, and he can keep it together for a couple days, but eventually, if he’s angry, that anger is going to — it’s like a steam valve. It’s either going to be Twitter or what you saw the other day. There’s a big risk you run in the White House if you put Trump in front of a group of reporters when he’s angry. I was actually surprised when the White House announced they were sending him back from his country club to do this press conference — or I guess technically it wasn’t billed as a press conference, this press event in the Trump Tower lobby — because it was going to put him, you know, 10 feet away from 300 aggressive political reporters.”

If you go

Joshua Green will return to Connecticut College in October for a talk. The session will be at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Ernst Common Room in Blaustein Hall. It is free and open to the public.

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