She won’t hear of it.
“I’m like, ‘But you have to, because you’re a very, very good spokesperson,’ ” she says. “When you find people like that, you encourage them.”
Banister and her colleagues are very, very good at encouraging, advising, cajoling and marketing their clients. With partner Craig Shirley, she heads Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a 10-person shop based in a historic house in Old Town Alexandria. The firm is one of the few in the business that take on only conservative causes. Moderate GOP-compromise types are not welcome.
Since 1984, Shirley & Banister has represented many of the people and groups forming the cornerstone of the modern conservative movement — from well-established outfits such as the National Rifle Association and the Club for Growth to insurgent groups including the Tea Party Patriots. The firm has flacked for commentator Ann Coulter, the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign and the filmmakers responsible for “2016: Obama’s America,” which took off in conservative circles for its scrutiny of the president.
Political strategists of both parties have denounced extremism on the right and laid the blame on more than a few Shirley & Banister clients for the Republican Party’s difficulty connecting with moderates. But Shirley and Banister say they are determined to keep the anti-establishment message churning, especially after two consecutive GOP presidential losses and eight years of George W. Bush’s budget busting and “compassionate conservatism.”
“Everything we do is designed to move numbers, shape opinion, advance legislation, put people on book bestseller lists, stop legislation, whatever,” says Shirley, sitting next to Banister in the firm’s conference room. “It’s all designed to advance some type of philosophical goal.”
The room’s TV is tuned to MSNBC, the left-leaning cable channel with round-the-clock political news. The Shirley & Banister Web site features a quote from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow excoriating the “very, very able, very, very connected conservative P.R. firm . . . Shirley & Banister, which howls like a wounded animal anytime we mention their existence on television.”
The channel is a favorite in the office, and not just because being blasted by the ideological opposition adds to the firm’s right-wing bona fides. This is a business, after all. Whereas Fox News is stocked with in-house conservative commentators, MSNBC’s liberal hosts often need a conservative foil. Shirley & Banister is more than happy to oblige.
Old friends and business partners
On a recent afternoon, Banister, who says she is in her 40s (she declines to be specific), and Shirley, 56, return to the office from lunch with Howard Fineman, the editorial director of the left-leaning Huffington Post Media Group and a regular commentator on MSNBC. The three are old friends, and they walk into the office sharing whispers and laughs.