In Multipolarity

By Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, Nov 14, 2016   (and additional analysis further below)

The key to influence in any White House is to establish oneself as the President’s most important adviser, and this is seemingly the role that Bannon has created for himself. The key to influence in any White House is to establish oneself as the President’s most important adviser, and this is seemingly the role that Bannon has created for himself.

Steve Barton, published of Breibart News, now top advisor to President-elect Donald Trump

Steve Barton, published of Breibart News, now top advisor to President-elect Donald Trump

“I’m a Leninist,” Steve Bannon told a writer for The Daily Beast, in late 2013. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

At the time, Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the far-right news site. When he became the C.E.O. of Donald Trump’s campaign, in August, he told the writer that he had no recollection of the conversation. On Sunday, Trump, in his first personnel decisions as President-elect, named Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor and Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairman, his chief of staff.

The press release from the Trump transition staff said that Bannon and Priebus would be “equal partners.” This is a signal to Washington that Bannon will be the most powerful person in Trump’s White House. On November 6, 2008, the day after his election, Barack Obama made just one personnel announcement: that Congressman Rahm Emanuel would be his chief of staff. Every staff member in the Obama White House reported to Emanuel, including political advisers such as David Axelrod. Even in the George W. Bush White House, which at first had a weak chief of staff, Andy Card, and a powerful political adviser, Karl Rove, everyone, including Rove, formally reported to Card.

Trump has indicated that, in his White House, Bannon will be first among equals.

Before the announcement, there was speculation that Bannon and Priebus were competing for the job of chief of staff, which, as Axelrod noted yesterday, “has inherent authorities that advisers do not.” But with those authorities come responsibilities that can limit the person in the role. Walter Mondale, the second Vice-President to have an office in the West Wing, advised his successors to avoid taking on managerial responsibilities (such as Al Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government). The key to influence in any White House is simply to establish oneself as the President’s most important adviser. This seems to be the role that Bannon has created for himself.

Bannon, who is sixty-two, has spent his relatively short political career incubating the nationalist right that roared to life in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and gathered strength through the Obama years. He grew up in Virginia, served in the Navy, went to Harvard Business School, and spent years as a mergers-and-acquisitions dealmaker for Goldman Sachs. In 2008, he became fascinated by Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, and the crowds she attracted. He spent the next eight years making hagiographic films about Palin and other right-wing political figures, and transforming Breitbart, which he took over after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012, into a center for the insurgent populist movement.

As Kurt Bardella, the former spokesman for Breitbart, told me earlier this year, when I was researching a piece on Bannon, “When Sarah Palin was on the rise, he had found a way to become a part of that circle. When the Tea Party was on the rise, he seemed to be right there in that circle. When it was going to be Ted Cruz, he was there. When it was going to be Ben Carson for a hot second, he was there. He’s been someone who’s been in pursuit of that pipeline to power for a long time now.”

The turning point for Bannon, Breitbart, and the movement that would eventually coalesce around Trump was the 2013 debate over immigration reform. After Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama, in 2012, the Republican leadership, encouraged by the business wing of the G.O.P. and the Party’s consultant class, made comprehensive immigration reform a legislative priority. Fox News became sympathetic to the effort and Priebus, then the chairman of the R.N.C., issued a report declaring that passing immigration reform was necessary for the survival of the Party.

This was the opening that Bannon had been looking for. He despised Fox News and Rupert Murdoch, whom he believes is a “globalist,” and he saw Priebus and the Republican leaders in Congress, such as Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, as “enemies.” Breitbart became the hub of resistance to the immigration-reform effort, developing strong ties to Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who was leading the opposition in the Senate. More ominously, it started cultivating a little-noticed movement of disenchanted conservatives who argued that the right should promote a restoration of white culture.

Under Bannon, Breitbart, which was read by Republicans across the political spectrum, allowed this so-called alt-right movement to enter the mainstream conservative conversation. The site published a tag on “black crime.” Bannon sent reporters to the Mexican border to cover immigration from the perspective of American citizens who felt victimized by undocumented immigrants. Breitbart writers used traditional tropes of anti-Semitism, attacking international bankers and globalists. “We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told Sarah Posner, of Mother Jones, in July, weeks before he became the chairman of Trump’s campaign.

Breitbart boosted any political outsider who threatened Republican leaders. In 2013, it cheered Ted Cruz when he helped shut down the government. In 2014, it promoted David Brat, who defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary by attacking his Wall Street ties and alleged sympathy for amnesty. It helped instigate the rebellion against Speaker John Boehner, who resigned from Congress in 2015. Bannon tried to entice Sessions into a race for the White House, but he declined.

During the Republican primaries, Breitbart savaged Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. By the fall of 2015, the site had become a Trump propaganda machine: “Trumpbart News” to its critics. In March, when Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager, grabbed Michelle Fields, a Breitbart reporter at the time, when she tried to ask Trump a question, Bannon sided with the Trump campaign, which denied that the incident even occurred. Bannon formally joined the Trump campaign as CEO in August, when Paul Manafort, the former chairman, became mired in a scandal involving financial ties to a pro-Russian party in Ukraine.

During the campaign, Bannon kept an article from Politico over his desk that included some gloating by Clinton staffers about the landslide win that they expected. He believed that Clinton was weaker with Hispanics, African-Americans, and white millennials than Obama was in 2012. And he believed that, with a surge of white working-class support, Trump could win Wisconsin and Michigan, which had voted Democratic since the 1980s. He was right about all of this.

Bannon injected Trump’s speeches with language about global élites and bankers. Clinton “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty,” Trump said in an October speech that was so disturbing in its coded anti-Semitism that the Anti-Defamation League spoke out against it. Trump’s final TV ad of the campaign combined excerpts from the speech, decrying “those who control the levers of power in Washington,” with images of George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein, all of whom are Jewish. “This needs to stop,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, said in a statement.

When Bannon has been asked about these racist and anti-Semitic appeals, he has insisted, implausibly, that he favors nationalism, not white nationalism. “If you look at the identity movements over there in Europe, I think a lot of [them] are really ‘Polish identity’ or ‘German identity,’ not racial identity,” he told Posner. “It’s more identity toward a nation-state or their people as a nation.” Bannon sees those European movements as allies, and has cultivated ties with far-right parties in the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. The first foreign political leader who President-elect Trump met with was Nigel Farage, a friend of Bannon who attended the Republican National Convention and campaigned with Trump in Mississippi, in July. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front, who is running for President, has already cited Trump’s victory as a harbinger of her own. Her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a member of the French parliament, tweeted, “I answer yes to the invitation of Stephen Bannon, CEO of @realDonaldTrump presidential campaign, to work together.”

The elevation of Bannon to a powerful position in the White House is an epochal event in American politics, one that has been condemned by the N.A.A.C.P., the A.D.L., and many Democratic leaders, including Harry Reid, whose spokesman said in a statement, “President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that White Supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House.” The Republican consultant John Weaver, who advises Ohio Governor John Kasich, tweeted, “Just to be clear news media, the next president named a racist, anti-semite as the co-equal of the chief of staff.” Weaver also wrote, “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.” William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, asked on Twitter, “Is there precedent for such a disreputable & unstable extremist in [White House] senior ranks before Bannon?”

Many observers have rightly focussed on Bannon’s interest in smashing the establishment. How will Bannon continue his crusade to defeat Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Priebus when he now needs them to pass Trump’s agenda? Despite Bannon’s hatred for Priebus, they worked closely together to elect Trump. Bannon believed it was an alliance of convenience, similar to Stalin and Churchill working together to defeat Hitler. I doubt Bannon will be as focussed on knocking off Republican leaders as he was when he was throwing rocks from the sidelines. You don’t actually have to destroy the establishment if you can force it to bend to your will.

Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and also an on-air contributor for CNN.


How Bannon flattered Trump

By David A. Fahrenthold and Frances Stead Sellers, The Washington Post, Nov 15, 2016

Soon after terrorist attacks killed 130 people in Paris last year, Donald Trump faced sharp criticism for saying the United States had “no choice” but to close down some mosques.

Two days later, Trump called in to a radio show run by a friendly political operative who offered a suggestion. Was it possible, asked the host, Stephen K. Bannon, that Trump hadn’t really meant that mosques should be closed?

“Were you actually saying, you need a [New York City police] intelligence unit to get a network of informants?” Bannon asked. He continued: “I guess what I’m saying is, you’re not prepared to allow an enemy within . . . to try to tear down this country?”

Trump — presented with a less controversial but entirely different idea than what he’d actually said — agreed. “That’s right. That’s not going to happen,” he told Bannon.

Today, Trump is president-elect. Bannon, the former Breitbart News chief who helped guide Trump’s victorious campaign, is set to be one of the new president’s most influential advisers. The clearest public sense of how the two will work together — and what policies Bannon may try to push — can be gleaned from a series of one-on-one interviews on Bannon’s radio show between November 2015 and June of this year.

In those exchanges, a dynamic emerged, with Bannon often coaxing Trump to agree to his viewpoint, whether on climate change, foreign policy or the need to take on Republican leaders in Congress.

At times, Bannon seemed to coach Trump to soften the harder edges of his message, to make it more palatable to a broader audience, while in other cases he pushed Trump to take tougher positions. He flattered Trump, praising his negotiating skills and the size of his campaign crowds.

The conversations marked a coming-together of Trump, who at the time was a pariah among many top Republicans, and the alt-right, a loosely defined term describing a far-right ideology that includes opposition to immigration and “globalism” and had found a home in the Breitbart News empire. The alt-right movement has also been saturated with white-nationalist [sic] rhetoric, prompting criticism of Bannon’s appointment this week, though Bannon has said the movement is not racist.

A spokeswoman for the Trump transition did not respond to a request for comments on behalf of Bannon and the president-elect.

Bannon’s interviews with Trump were done for Breitbart News Daily, a radio program that airs on SiriusXM satellite radio’s ‘Patriot‘ channel, a home for conservative talk. In all, they add up to more than two hours of one-on-one conversation.

By the time of that first show, Breitbart had already become a crucial booster of Trump’s presidential campaign. “Mr. Trump, thank you very much for joining us on the initial Breitbart News Daily Show,” Bannon said on Nov. 2, 2015.

When Trump came on the air, the first thing Bannon wanted to talk about was how well Trump was doing in his campaign — and how Bannon had noticed it before other people did. “I said, ‘This guy, people are leaning forward in these audiences when he’s talking’,” Bannon said, recalling earlier conversations about Trump’s run. “And we were mocked and ridiculed.”

Trump also wanted to talk about how well he was doing. “We had 20,000 in Dallas. . . and 35,000 in Alabama, and 20,000 in Oklahoma,” Trump said, talking about his rallies. “We’ve had a lot of fun talking about very negative subjects. Because everything is negative with the country, Steve, I mean, there’s nothing good happening.”

During their conversations, there were some moments on-air when Trump and Bannon disagreed. Though not many. Last November, for instance, Trump said he was concerned that foreign students attending Ivy League schools have to return home because of U.S. immigration laws.

“We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said. He paused. Bannon said, “Um.”

“I think you agree with that,” Trump said. “Do you agree with that?”

Bannon was hesitant. “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

Trump said he would build a border wall, but still wanted to let highly educated foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges to be able to stay in the country. “I still want people to come in,” Trump said. “But I want them to go through the process.”

Bannon said: “You got to remember, we’re Breitbart. We’re the know-nothing vulgarians. So we’ve always got to be to the right of you on this.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Trump said.

In most of the interviews, Bannon often called his subject “sir” or “Mr. Trump.” Trump called his interviewer “Steve.”

In his questions, Bannon often began with praise for Trump. Asking about foreign affairs, for instance, Bannon praised Trump’s capacity for dealmaking. “It’s complicated,” Bannon said. “That’s your calling card.”

“I love complicated,” Trump responded. “I thrive on complicated.”

The flattery often came before a leading question. Last December, Bannon told Trump that, “I know you’re a student of military history.” Then, he laid out a case for questioning the U.S. alliance with Turkey, a member of NATO since the 1950s.

Wasn’t it true, Bannon asked, that the situation was a bit like the web of treaties that connected European countries before World War I? “People were locked into these treaties. . . . It led to the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history,” Bannon said. He said that Turkey had changed since it joined NATO, turning to Islamism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What if Turkey was drawn into a broader conflict in Syria, perhaps with Russia?

“This is not something, Steve, that you want to end up in World War III over,” Trump said.

In other cases, Bannon would use his questions to frame policy choices — and then ask Trump if he agreed with the frame and the choice. In the December interview, Bannon presented the problems of climate change and the Islamic State as a binary option — offering Trump, in effect, the choice of fighting one or the other.

“Do you agree with the pope and President Obama that [climate change] is absolutely a path to global suicide, if specific deals are not cut in Paris, versus focusing on radical Islam?” Bannon asked, referring to the negotiations that eventually led to a global climate agreement in Paris last year.

Trump said that what other people considered to be climate change was probably just weather. Radical Islam should be the focus. “We are fools,” Trump said, meaning the Obama administration.

In the wake of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s early May announcement that he was not ready to back Trump, Bannon invited Trump to reflect on whether Ryan (R-Wis.) was showing “a lack of respect — not just for you, but for your policies.”

On issues ranging from trade to slowing Muslim immigration, Bannon said, “What [Ryan] wants is for you to drop those policies. Are you prepared to do that for unity?”

When Trump later began to say it would be “better if we do get together,” Bannon interrupted, saying that Ryan’s version of unity would represent “a collapse of what you ran on and a collapse on what [voters] backed you on.”

“Well, you can’t do that,” responded Trump.

Bannon also seemed to recognize when Trump had made a potential gaffe — even when Trump had not — and to try to steer him back to correct it. The first time Bannon asked Trump about U.S. foreign policy toward Turkey, Trump volunteered that he had business interests there.

“I have a little conflict of interest, because I have a major, major building in Istanbul,” Trump said. “It’s called Trump Towers. Two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one, it’s two. And I’ve gotten to know Turkey very well.”

A little later, Bannon circled back, asking Trump to explain why his conflict of interest should not bother voters. “They say, ‘Hey look, this guy’s got vested business interests all over the world. How do I know he’s going to stand up to Turkey?’ ”, Bannon said.

Trump did not directly address the question.

In another conversation, from February, Trump began with an attack on Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), his GOP primary rival, saying, “I’ve never seen any human being lie like he lies.”

Bannon, who had also praised Cruz in the past, interrupted. “Mr. Mr. Mr. Trump . . . You’ve been in New York real estate, and global real estate, and the gaming industry, and with politicians. You can’t say, reasonably, that Ted Cruz is the biggest liar you’ve ever seen,” Bannon said.

“He’s the biggest liar,” Trump said. “Okay, let’s get on to another subject. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

A few minutes later, however, Bannon circled back again. “These personal attacks. It’s turning people off,” he said. “On this Ted Cruz situation: You’ve dealt with the toughest hombres in the world. You can’t expect us to believe that Ted Cruz is the biggest liar you’ve ever met. It doesn’t stand to reason.”

Trump moderated. A little bit. “He’s right up there, let me tell you,” he said.

David A. Fahrenthold covers the 2016 presidential campaign for The Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered Congress, the federal bureaucracy, the environment, and the D.C. police. Follow @Fahrenthold

Frances Stead Sellers is a senior writer at The Washington Post, currently covering the 2016 campaign. She was editor of the Style section from 2011-2014 and prior to that ran the newsroom’s health, science and environmental coverage. Follow @FrancesSSellers

Additional analysis:
Steve Bannon made Breitbart a space for pro-Israel writers and anti-Semitic readers, by Robert Mackey, The Intercept, Nov 16, 2016

Spinning Bannon as ‘provocateur’ who ‘relishes combativeness’, by Janine Jackson, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Nov 18, 2016

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