Steve Bannon, David Stockman, and the need to spill one’s guts to liberals

Steve Bannon, David Stockman, and the need to spill one’s guts to liberals, by Paul Mirengoff.

Jonah Goldberg says he’s “struggling to think of a comparable figure in American political history who squandered real power and influence as completely and quickly as [Steve] Bannon has.”…

David Stockman and Ronald Reagan:

Bannon’s fall reminds me of what happened to David Stockman in the 1980s.

Stockman, who served as President Reagan’s director of Office of Management and Budget, was a buttoned-down policy wonk (or so he seemed at the time) with no apparent desire to lead a national political movement …

However, both share “revolutionary” dispositions to some degree. Bannon … has described the movement he wants to lead as “an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party.”

In the early Reagan years Stockman was almost as prominent — and for some, infamous — as Bannon became last year. He was the leading public exponent of “Reaganomics” and the major force behind Reagan’s budget, a serious attempt to rein in the welfare state.

Like Bannon, then, Stockman wielded real power and influence in an administration dedicated to new ways of taking on prevailing liberal orthodoxies. But like Bannon, Stockman’s power was contested. At times, he clashed with Jim Baker, Donald Regan, and Richard Darman over budget and tax policy.

Stockman’s downfall occurred because spilled his guts in an interview for Atlantic Magazine with William Greider, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post. Stockman provided Greider with 18 taped interviews.

In the interviews, Stockman expressed doubts about the Reagan administration’s ability to contain federal budget deficits. …

Most notoriously, Stockman told Greider that the “supply-side” economic theory underlying Reaganomics was really just “trickle down” economics. “Trickle down” was too unpopular to sell and thus needed to be dressed in new clothes, Stockman explained.

This, of course, is what Democrats and media liberals had been saying all along. President Reagan took Stockman to “the woodshed.” His power waned, though he remained in his job at OMB for almost four more years. …

But why do it?

What compelled Stockman and Bannon to speak to lefty journalists in ways contrary to the interests of the administration they served and/or were allied with? Frustration surely provides a partial explanation.

The deeper explanation, I think, is the strong sense of both that they are the smartest person in any room, and the desire to validate that sense. Any administration lackey can spout the party line to journalists. It takes the smartest man in the room to say he sees through it.

Similarly, any lackey can impress friendly journalists. It takes the smartest man to impress hostile ones. …

I find it interesting that leading figures in liberal administrations don’t speak to conservative pundits in ways that harm the interests of their boss. Did anyone in the Clinton administration spill his guts for publication to George Will? Did anyone in the Obama administration vent on the record to Charles Krauthammer? I don’t think so. … I think liberals are better team players than conservatives. I think they are less flaky. …

They get all the validation they need from the elites. Conservatives, especially if they work in a despised administration like Reagan’s or Trump’s, get their validation from less credentialed, less respected journalists and outlets.