Bannon bottoms out
What Steve Bannon’s humiliating ejection from Breitbart means for the pro-Trump movement
Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
Steve Bannon is out at Breitbart.com and everything about that is hilarious. Bannon has completed one of the most rapid implosions you’re ever likely to see from a public figure, going from high-powered presidential adviser to disgraced and universally reviled pariah in less than a year. His (largely self-created) reputation as a shadowy master political tactician and dangerous “revolutionary” has been ground to powder. Last April, Time magazine profiled Bannon as "The Great Manipulator," and since then he's manipulated himself into a historic electoral defeat and out of two jobs.
At every step along this ignominious journey, Bannon showed terrible judgment and sabotaged his own interests with his vanity and relentless need for validation from the "left-wing media" he professes to loathe. He got fired from the White House after volunteering an interview to the liberal American Prospect in which he trashed the administration's China policy. He tried to anoint himself the true leader of Donald Trump's political movement by defying the president and endorsing bigoted lunatic Roy Moore for Senate in Alabama. Bannon redoubled his support for Moore after the candidate was credibly accused of sexual assault, and he absorbed the blame for Moore's shocking defeat to Democrat Doug Jones.
Then came Michael Wolff’s book and its insider account of the Trump administration’s dysfunction, which featured Bannon attacking Trump’s son and other top campaign officials for the “treasonous” June 2016 Russia meeting. Bannon dished so many on-the-record quotes because he wanted to burnish his own reputation and because he had someone who would listen. The Russia quote went too far, though, and Bannon came under attack from the president and his former patrons, hedge fund billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. Bannon, the self-described street-fighting, take-no-prisoners political war machine, meekly attempted to worm his way back into Trump's good graces, but to no avail.
Getting tossed from Breitbart like a Depression-era hobo from a freight train is obviously bad news for Bannon, especially since he had tried to spin his post-White House return to the site as a power move. "I've got my hands back on my weapons," he told the The Weekly Standard at the time, adopting the nickname "Bannon the Barbarian.” But what does Bannon's exit mean for Breitbart.com and the broader pro-Trump coalition?
What needs to be stressed here is that Bannon was excommunicated largely for his tactics, not his politics. Bannon tried to position himself as an independent leader of the Trump coalition, which obviously was not going to sit well with a president who fancies himself a Messiah-like head of a historical movement. He earned Trump's opprobrium not by challenging him on policy, but by calling his son's actions treasonous and unpatriotic. The swiftness with which the entire MAGA leadership reoriented to cast Bannon as an insignificant un-person makes clear how much of the movement is driven by personality as opposed to policy.
And that brings us to Breitbart, which fired its leader after determining that, as an ostensible purveyor of journalism, it could not have someone critical of the sitting president on its masthead. The Atlantic quoted a “source close to Bannon” saying that he had to go because “him being involved in politics was interfering with Breitbart’s ability to act as a news organization.” That’s obvious bullshit, given that Breitbart owed much of its post-2016 relevance to Bannon's alleged ability to elevate candidates who could challenge the Republican establishment.
The problem wasn't Bannon's activism, but the fact that he was terrible at it and chose awful candidates whom Breitbart would eagerly debase itself to defend. No one in the MAGA movement had any public grievance with Bannon’s meddling in elections or his use of Breitbart resources to bolster his candidates until Roy Moore lost.
As for Breitbart.com itself, the website had been functioning as Bannon's personal public relations shop; his every public utterance was given a splash headline, even when the story was literally “Steve Bannon has read a book.” Now it will have to fall back on its core missions: stoking racial resentment, failing badly at pretend journalism, and slavishly defending Trump. For conservatives, Breitbart will almost certainly be a go-to source for immigration news as the immigration policy debate spins up, much as it was during the 2016 presidential campaign.
For Bannon, the future is (to put it charitably) uncertain. His power and reputation were always oversold, and his egotism, hard-charging extremism, and seemingly total lack of political intelligence mean that he’ll always be prone to self-destruction. Right now he looks to be a persona non grata to just about every conservative power center. But the right has a proud tradition of failing up, and there are always more right-wing billionaires with little sense but lots of money to throw around, so even after a public humiliation as long and total as the one he’s brought on himself, Steve Bannon might just be OK.