Many Republicans subscribe to the conventional wisdom that Steve Bannon will be less of a danger to President Donald Trump and the GOP Establishment now that he’s outside the White House.
It’s wishful thinking by moderates in the Trump White House and by such senators as Pat Toomey, the Republican from Pennsylvania, who celebrated Bannon’s ouster on Twitter.
But Bannon wasted little time getting back to his bomb-throwing roots after leaving his role as chief strategist for the White House.
He was back to his post as executive chairman of Breitbart News, the edgy conservative news outlet founded by the late Andrew Breitbart, within hours of cleaning out his desk at the White House. The news organization prides itself on taking aim at liberalism, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and even some GOP agenda items.
Breitbart’s troublemaking has made the Republican Establishment nervous in the past. Its fiery coverage has contributed to the ouster of numerous Establishment figures.
Breitbart, under Bannon, helped to force out House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015. Boehner resigned after he became frustrated working with hardliners who were influenced by Breitbart’s conservative politics.
Breitbart — and eventually Bannon himself — then went on to shape the platform of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
It was Breitbart’s relentless hammering of “America First” nationalism and the outlet’s articulation of that ideology that made the brand what it is today.
The Republican National Committee, led by Reince Priebus, studied why the party lost after Mitt Romney failed to unseat President Obama in 2012. The conclusion Priebus’ review reached was that the GOP, with Romney as its standard-bearer, was too harsh on immigration.
Republican officials, including Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio, then tried to pass an immigration bill that was widely perceived as offering “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. Breitbart led the charge against the bill.
In immigration, Breitbart found its stride before the Republican Party did.
Bannon took over as Breitbart’s top official after the sudden death of its young founder, Andrew Breitbart, on March 1, 2012. And Bannon guided the news outlet to great influence: Its website received more than 2 billion page views in 2016. In the spring of that year, the website ranked at No. 29 in the United States, surpassing ESPN. It’s little wonder Trump wooed Bannon and political editor Matt Boyle during the 2016 GOP primaries.
Bannon was key to this populist popularity at Breitbart, somehow hitting the right chords with an angry conservative and GOP audience in America.
But the site’s big influence began building before 2016. Perhaps no sign of Breitbart’s influence left quite so shocking and permanent a mark on the GOP as the Virginia congressional primary of June 2014. In that contest, the second-most powerful man in the House — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — was ousted by David Brat, a college professor who embraced the conservative Right and railed against illegal immigration.
Cantor was characterized as being soft on illegal immigration and suffered defeat in a shocking upset, after Brat only spent $200,000. Cantor, by contrast, had spent $5.5 million. The results effectively killed “amnesty” legislation for illegal aliens.
“One of the things it showed was that David can beat Goliath, and you can do it with literally no money — lesson number one, money doesn’t matter, message does,” Bannon told Politico in July. “Lesson number two, there’s a seething anger against the Republican establishment for not getting anything done.”
If the anger was seething in 2014 — when any conservative legislation the GOP managed to pass would almost certainly get vetoed by President Barack Obama — that anger must be at a new record temperature in this summer of 2017.
The GOP Congress has failed to deliver on promises to repeal Obamacare and to deliver major tax reform, and Bannon told The Weekly Standard that he is pessimistic it will do so.
Breitbart has already reprised attacks on some of Bannon’s old enemies at the White House, including H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser who wants to add troops to Afghanistan. On Sunday, the site ran a story that McMaster favored a book that suggested how U.S. troops could best lobby Muslim populations — by practices such as kissing the Koran.
Bannon did not return messages from LifeZette, and hasn’t since he left the White House on Friday. It’s an odd reversal of roles for Bannon, and odder still that he may wield more power against the GOP Congress and the White House now, on the outside, aiming inward.
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)