Donald Trump preened when vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence got good reviews last week for his debate performance. The Donald bragged that Pence was the “first choice” he had made, and thus a praiseworthy indication of his hiring prowess.
Fact check: False.
Trump made a much more telling choice two months earlier — a hiring decision that was appallingly evident before, during and after the presidential debate Sunday night.
In picking Stephen K. Bannon to run his campaign, Trump tethered his hopes to a combative propagandist — Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the right-wing website that a Bloomberg News profile called “a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained.”
And while Fox has sometimes been split in its coverage of Trump — occasionally critical, often fawning — Breitbart seems to have no such internal conflict. Which explains why people call it Trump Pravda.
Breitbart News’s tone (and its millions of devoted followers) have come to define the tone and discourse of the Trump campaign: nasty, truth-averse and no-holds-barred. There’s Bannon to thank for much of that.
His approach certainly was on display Sunday night, particularly in the surreal gathering of women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct, going back to the 1970s.
That pre-debate tableau in a hotel meeting room might as well have carried Bannon’s signature at the bottom. With Trump flanked at a long, narrow table by the Clinton accusers, it looked like a twisted version of “The Last Supper.” And the campaign’s chief executive could be seen in the background as it streamed to the world on Facebook Live.
Remember: “If there’s an explosion or a fire somewhere, Steve’s probably nearby with some matches,” Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington editor, told Joshua Green of Bloomberg.
It goes without saying that women who have suffered sex crimes deserve justice and dignity. Each of these cases has been investigated, sometimes repeatedly, and settled, in one way or another. Bringing the accusers into a presidential-debate town hall was nothing but hate-theater: a counterpunch to deflect criticism of Trump’s own shameful history with women. That history became impossible to ignore after a now-infamous 2005 recording made public Trump’s bragging about sexually assualting women.
Bannon even wanted the women to sit in the Trump family box, where they could have been even more prominently on display. The debate commission nixed that idea, and they sat in regular seats in the hall.
(Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, helped mastermind the stunt, The Post reported today. Kushner, too, is a media figure — the owner of the New York Observer. And Trump himself, of course, signed off on it.)
Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro has called Bannon “a legitimately sinister figure” and portrayed him to Business Insider as “a smarter version of Trump.” (Bannon — a former Naval officer, investment banker and film producer — declined to comment. His spokeswoman wrote, without irony, “His policy is not to do media.”)
Shapiro predicts that Bannon and Trump, assuming a loss on Nov. 8, will stay connected in a new, alt-right media venture.
“They’ll turn the campaign into a news network” — perhaps even further to the right of Fox, he told me recently.
Juanita Broaddrick, who has accused Bill Clinton of raping her in a hotel room in the 1970s (which he has denied), told U.S. News and World Report senior politics writer David Catanese on Sunday night that Breitbart had paid for her flight to St. Louis.
Later, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks corrected that — it was the Trump campaign that footed the bill — and Broaddrick recanted, too.
But it makes little difference, because Breitbart and the Trump campaign are so closely linked. And Bannon is the connective tissue.
“He’s a bully who has a very casual relationship with the truth,” said Kurt Bardella, who quit as Breitbart’s public relations rep when the site refused to back up Michelle Fields, a reporter for the site who said she was roughed up at a Trump campaign rally in March. Shapiro quit Breitbart in protest at the same time.
Bannon was also the creative force behind “Clinton Cash,” the controversial book turned documentary that examined how the Clinton Foundation raised money, and made the case that it conflicted with Clinton’s role as secretary of state.
As Jim Newell of Slate memorably put it, Trump “has already won the race for the president of the Breitbart comments section” — those who believe every terrible thing ever written about the Clintons and always will.
When Trump brought Bannon on board, he knew exactly what he was doing. The campaign would, with no qualms, pull out every last stop.
Now, with four weeks to go, it’s too late for Trump’s signature dismissal — “you’re fired” — and there’s no evidence that the candidate would be inclined to utter it.
Which makes Bannon a perfect hire, after all.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan