Vanity Fair special correspondent Gabriel Sherman told MSNBC anchor Steph Ruhle on Friday that it would be foolish to count Steve Bannon out because those who have bet against Breitbart News and Bannon have repeatedly been proven wrong.
Sherman recently traveled with Bannon abroad and across the United States to write the first major profile of Bannon since he left the White House.
The Republican establishment, like Sherman said, is hoping that Roy Moore’s campaign is Bannon’s “Waterloo” and the “last gasp of Bannon’s political power.” But Sherman noted—and Ruhle heartily agreed—that Bannon, “through Breitbart,” has “fundamentally re-wired the Republican Party.”
“I didn’t want to pronounce him dead yet because like Donald Trump, people who have bet against Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, or Breitbart have been proven wrong,” Sherman said.
When Ruhle, apparently unaware that Bannon is a teetotaler, referenced Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) inane remarks last week about how Bannon looks like a drunk, Sherman said Bannon looks “disheveled” and “unkempt” and added that that is “part of this persona that he’s crafted.”
“I think if you are focused on that, you’re missing the bigger story,” Sherman informed Ruhle. “Whether you like his politics or hate his politics, I think you have to take him seriously.”
Sherman, acknowledging Bannon’s “fundamental role in American politics” over the years, also added that those on left do a disservice when they “descend into ad hominem attacks” and call him a “racist” and “Nazi.”
While reviewing Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain book, I wrote that during the amnesty fight after the 2012 election, Breitbart News, which was undersized and outmanned, prevailed after taking on the “‘professional conservative’ establishment, the GOP establishment, the establishment media and their liberal allies, the international establishment, and the left.” And that’s been the case much more often than not throughout the years:
‘Honey Badger Don’t Give a Sh*t’: The Rise of Pro-Nationalist New Media
Breitbart News under Bannon’s leadership adopted as its unofficial mascot the fierce yet small honey badger immortalized in a viral video featuring the famous line, “honey badger don’t give a sh*t.” Those words became Bannon’s personal motto, and he wore the honey badger nickname (which former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu also had) like a badge of honor. The animal, considered one of the most fearless in the world, was even featured on Breitbart News flasks (see a picture of one below at Sarah Palin’s home).
As Green writes, because Rubio, “the darling of Fox News,” was “leading the charge” for the Gang of Eight, the amnesty bill “appeared to have unstoppable momentum.” And it would take a “honey badger” like Bannon to take on all of the establishments to oppose the amnesty bill and signal to Washington and the legacy media that they were entering a new era in which their ability to collude to shut out the voices and concerns of working-class Americans would be severely blunted.
“To Bannon, who was now running Breitbart News following Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012, killing the reform effort became a defining crusade,” Green writes.
Indeed, Breitbart News adopted Nolan Richardson’s relentless “40 minutes of hell” strategy, which is one that actually benefits underdogs, as this New Yorker article (“How David Beats Goliath”) on a youth female basketball team revealed.
“The website published a daily fusillade of alarmist fare about hordes of murderous illegal immigrants pouring across the southern border and the treasonous Republicans in Congress turning a blind eye to their menace,” Green writes.
Years before Trump took on all of the same forces that tried to ram through the Gang of Eight’s amnesty legislation, Trump, according to Green, “was reading Breitbart articles flagged by Bannon and then printed out on paper (Trump’s preferred medium for reading) and delivered to him in manila folders by his staff.”
Green notes that “by the time Trump entered the presidential race in June 2015,” Breitbart News’ reporting on illegal immigration’s impact on American workers, corporations gaming the guest-worker visa system to displace American workers with foreigners who are not more qualified, the existential threat of radical Islam, and the “excesses of political correctness” had done “much to shape Trump’s populist inclinations and inform his political vocabulary.” Green writes that the site’s “unapologetic and take-no-prisoners style of reporting” appealed to Trump.
In fact, according to Green, an analysis of “Trump’s campaign tweets showed that Breitbart was far and away his primary source of news.”
During his meetings with Trump, Bannon “eagerly encouraged” him to build a political movement around the concerns of working-class Americans who had been left behind by elites in both political parties.
With Fox News and other right-of-center outlets backing Rubio’s Gang of Eight bill, “the locus of opposition to the Gang of Eight bill emerged in the conservative underworld: Breitbart News, the Drudge Report, and a far-flung network of allied radio talk shows.”
Green points out how tough it was before Breitbart News fully came on the scene for populists to get their view represented in the legacy press or “even in conservative alternatives like Fox News”:
Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp., which owned Fox, and Roger Ailes, the network’s president, were both strong advocates of immigration reform, and made sure the network reflected their preferences. “God bless Fox,” gushed South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Bannon, who produced a 2006 documentary on illegal immigration, was well-versed in the issue and opened a Texas bureau “and developed a network of sources that included Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border, who provided on-the-ground details that made these stories more vivid.”
During the Gang of Eight debate, “Breitbart News stories fed the opposition, suffusing right-wing radio,” as Green notes. Breitbart News’ Matthew Boyle became one of the most hated reporters in Washington, D.C., because he did not buy the GOP establishment’s spin on amnesty and reported on all of their behind-the-scenes shenanigans and machinations. Breitbart Texas’ Brandon Darby was reporting on stories at the border that legacy outlets had long ignored, which included stories about illegal immigrants trying to get to America on the so-called “Death Train.”
“They have an incredible eye for an important story, particular ones that are important to conservatives and Republicans,” then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told Green. “Radio talk-show hosts are reading Breitbart every day. You can feel it when they interview you.”
Illegal immigration “also dovetailed with Trump’s long-held view that the U.S. was being taken advantage of by hostile foreigners,” Green writes. And although the Gang of Eight passed the Senate, the “bill died in the House, done in by conservative backlash” due to largely to Breitbart News’ reporting.
And when Breitbart Texas Editor Brandon Darby broke the monstrous story about illegal immigrant children being warehoused in Texas, “Breitbart News put the final nail in the coffin” in comprehensive amnesty legislation, according to Green:
Tipped off by border agents, [Breitbart News] first drew attention to the child migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The vivid scenes of helpless U.S. officials and detention facilities overrun by waves of Mexican and Central American children were widely picked up by the national media, killing any chance of Congress passing immigration reform. The backlash also took down Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. In June 2014, after Cantor was blindsided in the GOP primary by an unheralded economics professor named David Brat, Trump gave an interview to Breitbart News that delighted conservative populists by blaming unchecked immigration for the party leadership’s stunning loss.
The “Gang of Eight” bill’s humiliating defeat was a signal to the Washington cognoscenti that online news outlets may be more influential than traditional “right-of-center” outlets like Fox News.
Breitbart found its groove by reporting news that Americans were not used to seeing in even GOP establishment outlets like Fox News, The Weekly Standard, and National Review, all of which would often parrot the establishment GOP/Chamber of Commerce line while shutting out viewpoints that resonated with American workers of all backgrounds.
Gone were the days when National Review and The Weekly Standard served as mouthpieces for the GOP establishment. But it took a “honey badger” like Bannon who was unafraid to battle even the godfather of conservative media—Roger Ailes.
According to Green, “Trump, a honey badger himself, saw plenty to like” in Bannon, who “was nothing if not high-energy, a mile-a-minute talker who rarely slept and possessed a media metabolism to rival Trump’s own. His first instinct was always to attack.”
When Trump clashed with Megyn Kelly after the first GOP presidential debate, New Yorkmagazine’s Gabriel Sherman pointed out that Ailes was livid that nearly all of the emails took Trump’s side. According to Green’s reporting, Ailes called Bannon and “begged him” to call off Breitbart News’ attacks on Kelly. Bannon’s response: “Fuck that, that was outrageous what she did!”
When an Ailes lieutenant later visited Bannon and said Ailes would ban Bannon from Fox News if Breitbart News continued to write critical stories about Kelly, Bannon, according to Green, reportedly said: “I want you to go back to New York and quote me to Roger. ‘Go fuck yourself.’”
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. And that is why Bannon was really, to use Green’s words, the “most dangerous operative in America.”