Throughout his insurgent campaign for the White House, Donald Trump had symbiotic relationships with Breitbart News and Infowars. They promoted his candidacy; he plugged their work. Trump used his status to make people pay attention to fringe websites; they used their growing audiences to make Trump look good. Win-win.
Now, as president-elect, Trump is charged with fulfilling the hopes and dreams of Breitbart, Infowars and their readers — an impossible task. On top of the 282 promises he made during the campaign, Trump also carries the weight of pledges he never actually made but which some fanatical admirers have imagined and placed on his shoulders.
If Trump fails to live up to expectations, the hard-right websites that fed his political rise — and which he empowered — could turn around and eat his presidency.
Last December, at the conclusion of a half-hour interview conducted via webcam, Trump lavished praise on Infowars founder Alex Jones, who believes the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center was a "government-orchestrated, controlled bombing."
"Your reputation's amazing," Trump told Jones. "I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope, and we'll be speaking a lot. ... A year into office, you'll be saying, 'Wow, I remember that interview. He said he was going to do it, and he did a great job.' "
What would it take for Trump not to let Jones down? Well, on Monday he posted an online video in which he suggested that Trump is a fellow 9/11 "truther" who as president will contradict the official story about the terrorist attacks.
This is pure fantasy, which means Jones is sure to be disappointed.
Jones cited a local TV interview Trump gave just hours after the Twin Towers' collapse in which the real estate magnate speculated that there was "not only a plane" but also "bombs that exploded almost simultaneously." Trump turned out to be wrong about the bombs, but his initial thought was a common one at the time. He said nothing to indicate any suspicion of government involvement — nor has he done so in the 15 years since the attacks.
Nevertheless, Jones claimed on Monday that he has "been told by people that've known him for 40-plus years that Donald Trump is aware of the entire program and has basically just been waiting for the American people to wake up."
So, what happens when President Trump doesn't "reveal" that 9/11 was an inside job, as Jones seems to anticipate? Will Jones feel betrayed and turn Infowars on the president he supported?
Breitbart has already turned its fire on Trump on a couple of occasions since Election Day. Last week, a headline on the site called out the president-elect for a "broken promise" after senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump does not plan to push for criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton.
Trump often said during the campaign that Clinton "has to go to jail," riling supporters who chanted "Lock her up!" at the Republican National Convention and at rallies. At a debate in October, he turned to Clinton and said, "If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation."
Breitbart has also published multiple stories criticizing Trump's choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, labeling her a supporter of Common Core state standards, which conservatives loathe and Trump opposes. DeVos rejects that characterization.
Trump certainly has not lost Breitbart and Infowars yet, but their love for the incoming president is not unconditional. Stephen K. Bannon, on leave from his post as Breitbart chairman to serve as Trump's chief strategist, told the Wall Street Journal this month that he expects that the people running his site will watch closely to make sure the billionaire's administration stays "true to its vision."
"If we don't," he said, "I assume they will hammer us."
The hammers at Breitbart and Infowars are bigger and more powerful now than they were before Trump amplified the sites' messages during his campaign. If he doesn't deliver what they want, the websites that built him up could also knock him down.