Breitbart News Executive Chairman and former White House Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon takes the top spot in Politico magazine’s annual list of “50 Ideas Blowing Up American Politics (And The People Behind Them).”
“[I]f there’s a single person who has changed the American political conversation more than anyone else in the past year, it’s Steve Bannon,” Politico declares.
Seven others who also became more prominent because of the economic nationalist movement that President Donald Trump harnessed to shock the world in 2016 also made the list. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, EPA director Scott Pruitt, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, anti-establishment donor Rebekah Mercer, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach all made the top-50 list, with Messrs. Gorsuch, Mulvaney, and Pruitt in the top 10.
When the Republican establishment foolishly failed to the learn the lessons of Mitt Romney’s 2012 election loss and produced a disastrous autopsy report that recommended amnesty for illegal immigrants as its only policy solution, Breitbart News decided to represent the voices of American workers of all backgrounds—many of whom stayed at home in 2012 because they just could not get themselves to vote for Romney while holding their noses even though they were disillusioned with then-President Barack Obama. Their views and concerns were not only shut out by the bipartisan permanent political class but also mocked and looked down upon with utter disdain.
Breitbart News gave Americans of all backgrounds who were concerned about illegal immigration and policies, like on trade, that impacted them the news that other outlets did not report or downplayed. And there was no issue that divided the elites in the media, on Wall Street, and in D.C. from working-class Americans than the Gang of Eight’s efforts to ram through a massive comprehensive amnesty bill.
As I previously noted, “Breitbart News was undersized, outmanned, and taking on the ‘professional conservative’ establishment, the GOP establishment, the establishment media and their liberal allies, the international establishment, and the left. All too often, all five of these camps tried to swarm Breitbart News. But Breitbart News prevailed and got even stronger because, like the honey badger, Bannon and Breitbart News didn’t give a sh*t” about what the prim-and-proper elites and professional members of the political industrial complex thought.
Breitbart News adopted Nolan Richardson’s relentless “40 minutes of hell” strategy, and it kept growing and becoming more influential as more Americans decided they wanted to throw down against the political, media, and global establishments and join Breitbart News in its full-court press against them.
The battles Breitbart News won effectively neutered establishment darlings like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) before the 2016 presidential primary season and put the foundation in place for an outsider and economic nationalist candidate like Trump to win the GOP primary and the general election.
A recent New York Times magazine cover story explained that there is “no real precursor for Breitbart” of an outlet that has so quickly emerged to “dominate the political conversation in a pivotal election.”
Here are the Politico rankings.
1. Stephen K. Bannon
“Donald Trump blew into office with a basket of instinctive political beliefs—law-and-order, trade protection, anti-elitism—that felt incoherent in today’s American party landscape,” Politico writes. “They were immediately recognizable to Bannon, who had spent the past several years knitting those impulses into a new strain of right-populist politics at Breitbart News.”
The magazine notes that “there’s no neat phrase to describe just what Bannon is—a Navy vet and former Goldman Sachs banker who transformed himself into a filmmaker and media entrepreneur. Most recently, he became a kind of intellectual Svengali to a diffuse group of people who might not have seen themselves as having anything in common until Bannon began articulating it, and gave it a tribune as chief executive of Trump’s campaign.”
Politico observes that whether one wants to call it “Trumpism” or “Bannonism,” the populist/economic nationalist worldview is battling with corporatism for the soul of the Republican Party. In fact, a recent FiveThirtyEight study found that the so-called “Bannon Wing” represents a major part of the modern GOP. In addition, Politico notes that with Trump as president, “the country is locked in a struggle over what it really wants to be; and Steve Bannon is a big reason why. Financial Times U.S. managing editor Gillian Tett recently wrote that the left can learn from Bannon by getting “out of their cocoon” and “start clicking on to Breitbart News” to better understand the economic nationalist movement.
3. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch
Politico notes that though Trump is “as ideologically malleable as any president in recent memory,” he “has surely succeeded where many of his GOP predecessors failed: Neil Gorsuch is a rock-solid conservative constitutionalist who has already shown self-confidence and flair in his first few months on the job.”
6. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney
Michael Grunwald writes that Mulvaney is bringing the “small-government conservatism of the Freedom Caucus to one of the most powerful positions in government.”
9. EPA Director Scott Pruitt
Andrew Restuccia writes that Trump’s “pledge to unravel Barack Obama’s climate agenda may be—in the long run—the single most significant action he takes as president. And there’s one man tasked with turning Trump’s rhetoric into reality: Scott Pruitt.”
12. Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel
Politico notes that Thiel knew more about what concerned voters in 2016 than GOP consultants and his fellow Silicon Valley elites when he argued that voters were reevaluating issues like free trade and immigration.
“If there is an entrepreneur whose taste for disruption exceeds even Donald Trump’s, it’s Peter Thiel, who emerged during the campaign as one of Trump’s few public supporters among the GOP’s moneyed elite,” Politico points out.
16. Anti-establishmnet Donor Rebekah Mercer
Ben Schreckinger observes that “with Donald Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party, Rebekah Mercer has supplanted the Koch brothers as the right’s most important megadonor—expanding the scope of what constitutes political spending along the way.”
He notes that Mercer’s “efforts constitute a breadth of political giving, and a proximity to power, that goes beyond what any other megadonor has so far achieved. It also amounts to a declaration of war on the traditional pillars of the GOP.”
In Jane Meyer’s New Yorker profile of Mercer, it is evident that she disdains the “frauds” and hacks in the political establishment and wanted to beat them like much of the conservative base did:
On Election Night in 2012, the Mercers and other top conservative donors settled into the V.I.P. section of a Republican Party victory celebration, having been assured that their investments would pay off. Obama’s defeat of Mitt Romney particularly infuriated Rebekah Mercer, who concluded that the pollsters, the data crunchers, and the spin doctors were all frauds. Soon afterward, Republican Party officials invited big donors to the University Club, in New York, for a postmortem on the election. Attendees were stunned when Rebekah Mercer “ripped the shit out ` of them,” a friend of hers told me, adding, “It was really her coming out.” As the Financial Times has reported, from that point on Mercer wanted to know exactly how her donations were being spent, and wanted to invest only in what another friend described as “things that she thinks put lead on the target.”
31. Harvard Economist Dani Rodrik
Scholars mocked Rodrik when he wondered twenty years ago if globalization had gone too far and was leaving too many workers behind. They are not laughing now.
Sarah Gamard writes that “pundits and economists have scrambled to explain the worldwide eruption of populist sentiment, many pointing the finger at globalization. For Dani Rodrik, this conversation feels about 20 years late”:
It was all the way back in 1997 that Rodrik, an Istanbul native and Harvard professor of international political economics, published “Has Globalization Gone Too Far?”—a paper warning that increased international economic integration would worsen income inequality, job insecurity and social instability. At the time, it was almost heretical. In the 1990s, most mainstream economists on the right and left—from Clintonites to free-market Republicans—took it for granted that opening trade borders would reap benefits across the world.
Now, those like Larry Summers, Martin Wolf, and Paul Krugman who thought Rodrik’s views were heretical have had to “concede, at least in part, that [globalization] has produced inequality, unemployment and downward pressure on wages. Nuances and criticisms that economists only used to raise in private seminars are finally coming out in the open.”
38. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Kobach, who studied under the late Samuel Huntington at Harvard, “has left a big imprint on some of the most hard-line immigration and voting rights legislation across the country.”
“[A] country defending itself from outside forces has always been an idea potent enough to mobilize political will, and Kobach lends the movement the polish and pedigree it might take to translate those feelings into real policy,” Katelyn Fossett writes.
See the full list here.