Steve Bannon, RIP

Steve Bannon’s political career died today. He was fired from his last remaining job as editor of Breitbart News by the site’s owners, who include the billionaire Mercer family that financially supported both Bannon and Russian Viceroy Donald Trump. Steve Bannon is 64 years old. His political career was 14.

Born to a family of working class Irish Democrats, Steve Bannon attended Virginia Tech after graduating high school. During the summers he lived at home and took a job at a local junkyard, often coming home so dirty that his Mom would force him to strip to his underwear and rinse off with a hose before being allowed into the house. This set a standard of personal hygiene that he has maintained to this day.

Bannon ultimately received degrees from multiple universities, and served in the US Navy from the late 1970s to early 80s. After military service, he became an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a resume point that he shares in common with many others in the Trump Administration. Using this position, Bannon and some colleagues started an investment bank that negotiated a sale of Castle Rock Entertainment, Bannon & Co accepting a payment in the form of stake in five television shows, including Seinfeld, for which he still receives cash residuals each time the show is aired. In the mid-2000s, Bannon also, through Goldman Sachs, took over a media company that was renamed Affinity Media. Through his work in media, Bannon was introduced to right-wing publisher, Andrew Breitbart. With him, Steve Bannon founded the Breitbart News site. Bannon helped publish Clinton Cash, an expose’ of the Clinton Foundation, by Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. He has also worked as vice president at Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis owned by the Mercer family.

When Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, Bannon became executive chair for the Breitbart company.  Under its namesake founder, Breitbart.com had been famous for its political incorrectness, but under Bannon, the site became much more focused on what Bannon called a “nationalist” agenda including attacks on Muslim immigrants in both Europe and the United States. In 2016 he declared to a reporter that the site was a “platform for the alt-right.”  While Bannon denied specifically being an anti-Semite, he had once referred to himself as “the (Leni) Riefenstahl of the GOP.”  It is also uncertain why Bannon would associate with anti-Semites when he still gets Seinfeld money, but it could be that he is just as tired of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David as the rest of us.

Bannon’s credentials were apparently enough to get him referred to the Donald Trump campaign in 2016, even though in 2015, GAI, a research firm founded by Bannon and Schweitzer had done opposition research on alleged deals between Trump companies and organized crime.  Once Trump received the Republican nomination in 2016, the Mercer family offered monetary support and the assistance of conservative media woman Kellyanne Conway and Bannon (the Mercers are also backers of GAI).  Bannon became Trump’s campaign strategist. His main contribution was perhaps the use of his media platform to endorse a populist agenda that set candidate Trump not only against much of the corporate-friendly Republican Party but also the corporate-friendly Democratic Party. Breitbart.com was also quick to pounce on any negative rumors about Hillary Clinton and her campaign, which ended up being instrumental in her electoral defeat and some of which turned out to be spread by Russian sources.

During the post-election transition, Donald Trump appointed Bannon to the unique position of Chief Strategist, going to the extent of dropping the Joint Chiefs of Staff from National Security Council meetings with the president in order to allow for Bannon’s presence. During the early days of the Trump Administration, Bannon along with Pee-Wee Herman Lookalike Contest Winner Stephen Miller was involved in the creation of Executive Order 13769, aka the “Muslim ban” that was mostly thrown out by courts. Bannon’s influence over the Administration was such that he was often jokingly referred to as “President Bannon,” raising the ire of the famously touchy Trump. During 2017, Bannon’s other major contribution to politics was to encourage Trump to side with the white nationalists during the Charlottesville protest where one person was killed by a vehicle. Given Bannon’s reputation, the NAACP and other groups called on Trump to fire him. To save face, Bannon said he had planned to resign after his one-year anniversary – as campaign chairman – on August 14. He also said that due to the “tumult” in Charlottesville, Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had agreed to delay the announcement until after the Charlottesville protest.

At this point Bannon returned to his position as Breitbart executive chairman, telling the conservative press, “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons”. Bannon planned to use his position outside the Washington establishment to agitate for what he called “economic nationalism” and the populist social conservatism that worked in the Trump campaign. To do this he planned to support candidates of like mind against the agenda of Washington professionals like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. His main test case was in the Alabama special election when he supported theocratic “Judge” Roy Moore against Luther Strange, the Republican appointed by Alabama’s governor after Senator Jeff Sessions became Trump’s attorney general. Trump, for once towing the party line, endorsed Strange half-heartedly, but Bannon rallied the Tea Party Right and supporters like Sarah Palin on behalf of Moore, who won the Republican primary in September and set up a race against Democrat Doug Jones.
This of course was before the Washington Post reported allegations of Moore dating teenage girls and molesting one when he was in his thirties. Yet Bannon continued to campaign fiercely for Moore, even mocking Ivanka Trump for saying “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.” Even so, the stakes were such that the Republican establishment – now including Trump – joined the offensive for Moore while the negative publicity increased, Jones intensified his campaign and Moore himself retreated from the press, setting up a Jones victory that made him the first Democratic Senator from Alabama to be elected since 1986. Politically, Bannon engineered a screaming catastrofuck that already compares to the Battle of Stalingrad in terms of its strategic damage to the Republican Party, damage that could have been avoided at several points. For this monumental achievement, Bannon was praised by at least one conservative as “the most effective Democratic Party strategist since James Carville”.

The primary short term result of the Alabama race was to destroy what remained of Bannon’s reputation for competency within conservative circles. Bannon was already unpopular with establishment Republicans for both professional and personal reasons, with Rep. Pete King (R.-New York) saying after the Alabama election that “he looks like some disheveled drunk who wandered onto the national stage”. Bannon’s patron, Robert Mercer, was put under scrutiny by the New Yorker magazine largely because of his connections to Bannon and the activities of Cambridge Analytica. As a result he decided in November to end his political activities and sell his stake in Breitbart to his daughters. However, Bannon still retained some clout with Donald Trump himself, as evidenced by Trump’s willingness to campaign for Moore in the first place.

The fatal blow was the now-famous release of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, an expose’ that Wolff compiled with interviews made during the later stages of the Trump campaign through the early part of the Trump Administration. Much of it relies on interviews and accounts with Bannon, which serve to confirm his already-established reputation as one of the White House staff’s primary leakers, mainly at the expense of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump (as he called them, ‘Jarvanka’). He also specifically told Wolff that Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting with Russian nationals (before Bannon was on the campaign) was a bad idea: “”Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.” He added, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.” (Bannon also said that the information deal would have been better handled by indirect delivery to Breitbart ‘or maybe some other more legitimate publication’, possibly admitting that it isn’t one.)

For this, Donald Trump gave an official statement to the press pool on January 3 saying “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency”, which of course was only true in the present tense. Trump also paid tribute to him by saying: “Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself” which was the main thing the two men had in common. Back at Breitbart, Bannon tried to maintain his position but Rebekah Mercer, his last patron, withdrew her support and today it was announced on Breitbart.com that he had “stepped down”.

Steve Bannon’s legacy is primarily in the association of American right-wing politics with reactionary nationalism and racism, thus tarnishing the reputation of Andrew Breitbart’s website and the entire Republican Party. In pushing the badly-drafted “Muslim” immigrant ban, Bannon set an early precedent that helped to undermine American soft power and the trust of the international community, and more directly antagonized a large section of the American civil service against the Administration. He will also be remembered for undermining the prestige of facial hair.

Steve Bannon is survived by three daughters and three ex-wives, the second of whom cited his anti-Semitic remarks at their divorce hearing and who also made domestic violence charges against him that were dropped when she failed to appear in court, an absence that she claims was due to legal threats against her from Bannon’s lawyer. However, Bannon’s proudest and most famous child is the squalling man-baby he helped install in the White House, a student who betrayed and destroyed his teacher once he was powerful enough to survive on his own, thus fulfilling the ancient Rule of Two.