News & Politics

Steve Bannon's Strategic Mistake

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon attends a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017 in Montgomery, AL. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Although The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro is celebrating Steve Bannon’s ouster at Breitbart, not everybody shares his happiness. Writing for The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last explains that although he and Bannon didn’t see eye to eye on all issues, he did like him. Or, at least, he liked the fact that Bannon had ideas.

 If you squint at him a certain way—and ignore Pepe and Milo and his enthusiastic embrace of an ugly crew—Bannon was almost a reformicon. Or at least what happens when reform conservatism goes on a date with populism, has five drinks too many, and makes some bad life choices.

And for a while, lots of people talked themselves into believing that Bannon’s combination of nationalism and reform conservatism was, more or less, what defined “Trumpism.”

But, writes Last, there is one minor problem with “Trumpism”: Trump himself doesn’t believe in it. Like Obama before him, the current president is simply a vessel. “People poured their hopes into him,” he writes. “If you were an immigration hawk, you thought Trump was the only one who would secure the border. If you were concerned about the economy, you thought Trump’s business background would make him a good president. If you read Breitbart, you thought that Trump believed in what Steve Bannon believed.”

He goes on to write that The Swamp knew that Trump had no real ideas and ideals, which is why the GOP establishment preferred him over other strong Republican candidates such as Senator Ted Cruz. That didn’t surprise him one bit.

But, continues Last, it is surprising that chose the vessel (Trump) over ideas (Bannon). “Historically, print publications are centered around ideas,” Last opines. “That’s why they exist. It seems strange—more than strange, really—that when push came to shove, Breitbart picked the president and the corporate tax cut and DACA renewal over the ideas of Steve Bannon. It makes no sense.”

Or does it?

Unless, that is, the animating idea of the Breitbart wing of conservatism isn’t actually nationalist-populism. It’s just power. And then it all makes perfect sense: For Breitbart, power is their big idea.

Which is funny. Because at the end of the day it means the eager little Cossacks over at Breitbart are actually a lot like the bloated, grasping, Washington establishment types they hate so much.

The only difference, really, is that The Swamp always wins.

It is rather strange that a news outlet fires someone because those in power don’t like what he says. If this had happened at, say, Huffington Post back when Obama was president, conservatives would’ve fallen all over themselves to condemn such behavior, arguing that it proves that the Democrat-Media Complex is alive and well.

Having said that, Bannon is also the guy who transformed Breitbart from a news outlet into a political action movement. Breitbart is not just reporting the news, it’s actively pushing specific candidates. That’s all fine and well, but it also means that Bannon made himself vulnerable to the politicians he allied with in the event of a break-up.

That’s what happened here. Bannon thought he could separate the Breitbart movement from Trump. That was a strategic mistake: because of their firm alliance during the election campaign, Breitbart’s movement and the Trump movement are largely one and the same. This is Bannon’s own doing; he did it on purpose and it boosted Breitbart’s numbers. So, for a while, it was certainly a good strategy.

Eventually, however, allying so strongly with specific politicians will always end up in a news outlet having to choose between them and ideas. Bannon’s choice when that moment came did him in.

It will be fascinating to see where Breitbart goes in the coming weeks and months. The above-mentioned Shapiro explains what his thoughts are:

So, where does Breitbart go from here? The great tragedy in all of this is that Breitbart’s name has been smeared with Bannon’s toxicity. Now they’ll have to rebuild. They can do so by either returning to Andrew’s original mission, which would require some humility, some decency — or they can become a shadow of their former glory, trying to pander to political patrons rather than standing for truth. That’s their choice.

Or, as I’d put it: will they try to be a political movement that wants to have direct political power and influence, or will they  go back to Andrew Breitbart’s original mission to use the site to destroy leftist narratives created by the mainstream media? They can be successful either way, but the choice will have to be made now that Bannon is gone.