When Steve Bannon returned to Breitbart News the very day his resignation from the White House staff was announced, there was immediately speculation that “Bannon the Barbarian” (as he called himself) might focus his powerful right-wing media outlet on settling scores, within and beyond the Trump administration.
Just over a week later, Breitbart seems to be settling into the sort of loyal gadfly role some conservative agitators took during the Ronald Reagan administration, blaming everything their hero did that they disliked on the work of manipulative centrist insiders. It is unclear whether their slogan will be “Let Trump Be Trump,” but it will involve the same careful balancing act, with the added peril of risking alienation of the most thin-skinned president since his hero Andrew Jackson.
So far, as a useful catalogue of this last week’s Brietbart headlines by Politico shows, the fiery site has only directly criticized Trump on one topic: his decision to go with the recommendations of the generals on Afghanistan. But on that topic Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam was blunt in blaming Trump’s positioning on National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Bannon’s chief “globalist” rival in the White House and a man Breitbart has been pounding for months.
This isn’t about changing his perspective on the war. POTUS is a remarkably astute and stubborn individual. This was about the swamp getting to him.
Afghanistan aside, Breitbart has continued its fairly regular criticism of Jared Kushner and Gary Cohn, while defending Trump’s aggressive utterances on Confederate monuments, the border wall, and the failings of the Republican Congress. A pretty characteristic line of attack, from Breitbart veteran Neil Munro, accuses “West Wing Democrats” of conspiring to convince Trump to break his campaign promises on immigration.
There was one departure from the official Trump line last week that might show Breitbart News having an impact on the president’s views. The site’s Washington editor, Matthew Boyle, who is especially close to Bannon, hyped a Sarah Palin endorsement of Judge Roy Moore against Trump’s endorsed candidate, Luther Strange, in the Alabama GOP Senate runoff. But he didn’t leave it at that: His piece pounded Strange as an anti-Trump puppet of Mitch McConnell who opposes the president’s demands for the abolition of the legislative filibuster, and didn’t mention Trump’s endorsement of the incumbent.
Within a day, the Washington Post was reporting that Trump was rethinking his support for Strange, and might do little or nothing for Big Luther in his life-or-death struggle with Moore. That’s probably not a coincidence.
So one way to look at it is that Breitbart will continue its customary more-Catholic-than-the-Pope attitude toward Daddy, praising him most of the time while criticizing him when he listens to the wrong people instead of following his “populist” instincts. But as Rosie Gray points out, there could be one big difference in how Breitbart operates now that Bannon is back:
One of the surprising things about Breitbart during the Trump era so far has been that for the amount of access it supposedly has, the site hasn’t broken much news. Yes, Boyle has interviewed Trump, and other administration officials have given interviews to Breitbart. But most of the big leaks out of the administration have gone to mainstream news outlets.
But now, as one Breitbart staffer pointed out to me, though the site’s staffers were nearly as in the dark before as other outlets when it came to the inside goings-on of the administration, that will change with the reentry of Bannon. He returns with just about the most insider knowledge a person could have of the White House …
“Bannon will try to use some of the shit that he’s learned,” said [former Breibart writer Lee] Stranahan.
In the most insanely turbulent news environment anyone can remember, Breitbart’s ability to break news could be a new and even more unsettling factor. And it’s as likely as not that on any given occasion Trump will agree with what Bannon’s hirelings are saying — even if it’s to say the president needs to stop listening to his own staff.