Stephen Bannon, the former banker who runs Breitbart News, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive amid a major campaign shakeup. As the primary season began in February, The Fix took a look at the way the conservative outlet had been running interference for the then-insurgent candidate. The story is republished below.
Back in January, Breitbart News proudly republished the first 450 words of a Washington Post story, which was funny — and not only because the conservative website routinely derides this newspaper as “left-wing.” It was also funny because this particular story began by mocking Breitbart for a faux “EXCLUSIVE” on Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
But the excerpted portion of Paul Farhi’s article declared that Breitbart is “at the head of the jostling pack of conservative news sites” and “has emerged as a prime rival to Fox News as the media leader for a certain segment of the GOP.” And that was enough to flatter Breitbart.
The site was willing to ignore its general disdain for The Post — and even Farhi’s ribbing — because the story conveyed its success.
It was all very reminiscent of Trump, the man who is known to overlook media criticism that at least acknowledges he is winning. And it makes sense, given how pro-Trump Breitbart has been over the past several months.
Their shared — and very loose — definition of a compliment illustrates why Breitbart and Trump are made for each other: They value strength over ideology.
How else to explain the news site’s embrace of the Manhattan billionaire, who previously said he identifies “more as a Democrat” and that Hillary Clinton "would do a good job” as president, even with a conservative purebred like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the race?
“We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club,’ ” Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen Bannon told Farhi. And has there ever been a more “Fight Club” candidate than Trump?
With a combat metaphor in mind, it’s easier to understand the site’s aggressive coverage of Trump’s GOP rivals. Breitbart has not merely heralded Trump’s polling dominance and defended his most incendiary remarks; it also has scrutinized the rest of the Republican field to a point where, if you didn’t know better, you might think some stories were coming from a liberal media outlet.
Think I’m exaggerating? Check out these headlines about some of the non-Trump Republicans:
- Why Ted Cruz is vulnerable on Canadian birth issue
- Poll: Quarter of Republicans think Ted Cruz’s birthplace disqualifies him from presidency
- Exclusive: 1974 Canadian electors’ list named Ted Cruz’s parents
- Cruz Princeton debate teammate from Canada: Ted ‘identified himself as a dual citizen’ while crossing border
You’ll notice a few patterns here: Any perceived softness on immigration is a problem. Any perceived alignment with President Obama is a problem. And being born outside the United States is a big problem.
At times, it even feels as though Breitbart likes Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — a democratic socialist! — better than some Republicans.
Breitbart doesn’t actually like Sanders’s politics, of course. It likes his independent streak and the fact that he is making Clinton sweat through the race for the Democratic nomination. He’s disruptive — which makes him a bit like Trump.
Disruptiveness is really the key trait here. Bannon, in his interview with Farhi, explained that “we think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class.”
It’s not hard to make the case that Cruz, Rubio and even Bush all have better conservative credentials than Trump, who has never been in office to enact any of the policies he’s proposing now. But their records also make them part of the political establishment with which many Republican voters are so disgruntled. Trump, despite being a relatively new convert to conservatism, is appealing because he appears ready to rumble with the status quo.
For the self-described Breitbart “Fight Club,” he’s as good as it gets. Everyone else is just an opponent to be knocked out.