Bannon's Back At Breitbart, White House Advisers Worry They're Targets

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 25, 2017 8:45 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump's chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, wasted little time after he was forced out of his job last Friday. The same day he was forced out, he was already chairing the editorial meetings of Breitbart News. That is the right-wing digital outlet that rallied many of Trump's core supporters and the same outlet that Bannon led before joining the Trump campaign last year. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik says Bannon has been putting his stamp back on Breitbart already. David joins us from our studio in New York. Hey there, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So this happened really, really quickly. I mean, Breitbart promised war - actually #war - with Bannon getting back there.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. And that was tweeted out by Joel Pollak, one of the senior editors there. That war was supposed to be against the elements in the Trump administration that are not truly representative of Trump, which means the folks that Steve Bannon took issue with in there. And there were a lot of them, people he felt were essentially closet Democrats, people he felt were part of the establishment that they had promised to take down.

Let's remember, Bannon's role at Breitbart previously, before joining the Trump campaign, was as executive chairman of Breitbart. And he took it from essentially a gadfly, conservative site to an enforcer, really, for the right wing of the Republican Party in certain ways. And he brought that to the White House. He's going to bring that back there. He's going to take it - aim at anyone who he says is undermining Trump's pure form, which is sort of how Bannon views Trump should be, nationalist, not globalist and intensely sort of waging a culture war.

GREENE: And the feeling was that since Bannon had a position in the White House that nationalist culture war movement had its place. Now, that he's gone, I guess the feeling is, OK, fine. You're not going to take us on the inside. We're going to come at you from the outside.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, and I think you've really seen that this week. Think of some of the headlines - "His McMaster's Voice: Is Trump's Afghanistan Policy That Different From Obama's?" - taking aim at H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser to the president. There's a headline saying "Egyptian Foreign Minister Snubs Jared Kushner," (ph) the president's son-in-law, somebody Bannon saw as an internal foe and, of course - and a chief adviser to the president on certain things.

"Gary Cohn Spotted Partying With Wall Street Elite" - frequent refrain of Trump in terms of the elites and Wall Street during the campaign. Gary Cohn came from Wall Street and is, in fact, the president's chief economics adviser. These are among the many targets that Breitbart has gone after in just the few days since Bannon's return.

GREENE: OK. So a lot of loud headlines - but is there any way to tell whether Steve Bannon is going to have more or less influence now at Breitbart compared to when he was inside the White House?

FOLKENFLIK: Look, I think if you're the chief political strategist for the president the United States, you're never going to have more power than that at that moment. And at the same time, Breitbart News was a source of, in some ways, terror for members of the Republican Party, that it's nominally in favor of, on Capitol Hill.

And now that there's a Republican administration, you know, there are going to be people inside the White House who are going to be looking over their shoulders and sometimes just in front of their noses all the time to figure out - how are these attacks from Breitbart going to affect them? When are they going to strike next? So you know, Breitbart has been very focused and very useful for those who would try to pull Trump to a more nationalist, more culture warrior.

Think of the chaos of the first weeks - the travel ban, the promise of intensification of deportations, the promises of the wall, the chaos and conflict. All of that represents Bannon's view not only of what he wants in policy and what he wants Washington to be like, a place of strife, because he thinks that's how you tear down the institutions that he says have been arrayed against the rest of the nation.

GREENE: Such - a couple of interesting moments I wanted to ask you about this week - I mean, you had Breitbart criticizing President Trump on Afghanistan. The president gives what was seen as kind of a policy issues speech on Afghanistan but then goes to Phoenix, Ariz., is in full campaign mode, I mean, trashing the media. And Breitbart cheered that. What does that tell us about the kind of pressure that Trump is under?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's a reflection, actually, of Trump's frustration with having to give things like the responsible-sounding Afghanistan talk, with being attacked in the press pretty much uniformly in the press and by people on Capitol Hill and other places for what he had to say after the violence at Charlottesville, the death of an antiracism protester at - seemingly, at the hands of somebody down there to support a kind of white nationalism.

And I think that actually, in some ways, it reflects Bannon's urgings, that Bannon wanted always Trump to be Trump. And he sees this as a pure form of Trump. And he goads it and encourages it. And let's not forget, one of the things we know is that when people leave the White House or leave the Trump circle, they actually still are on speed dial.

So I don't think Bannon has been iced from the ability to get past the supposed grown-ups and minders at the White House. I think he's going to be doing it from Breitbart. And I think he's going to be doing it from his cellphone as well.

GREENE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik speaking from New York. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.