Breitbart News says it abandoned congressional candidate Paul Nehlen because of new information about the views of a man who describes himself as “pro-white.” Yet Nehlen’s white nationalist sympathies are not recent discoveries; they were evident last year.
A more plausible explanation for Breitbart’s move is political calculus. Stung by the special-election loss of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore — whom the far-right website supported, despite accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls decades ago — Breitbart needs to align itself with politicians who can win to help regain the appearance of influence Moore’s defeat damaged. Nehlen, challenging Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) again after getting shellacked by the House speaker in a GOP primary in 2016, looks like a losing bet.
Here’s how Breitbart framed its decision to ditch Nehlen, in an article published Wednesday:
Nehlen, who ran against Ryan last cycle on the economic nationalist agenda of renegotiating trade deals, has recently publicly come out making several white supremacist comments — something he had not done before. Nehlen has announced his plans to run against Ryan again this cycle, and while Breitbart News did cover his race in depth in 2016 — something that was highlighted by everyone from now President Donald Trump via Twitter to CNN and many others — this news outlet has cut all ties with Nehlen after he made a number of clearly anti-Semitic and white nationalist comments via his Twitter account this past couple weeks. Breitbart News pulled down his contributor page earlier this week, and allies of [Breitbart chairman Stephen K.] Bannon have made clear publicly for more than a week that Bannon does not support Nehlen and cut ties as soon as he found out about these comments.
The Bannon allies cited by Breitbart include Arthur Schwartz, a communications strategist. CNN's Oliver Darcy reported Wednesday that “Schwartz told CNN the decision was made earlier this month after Bannon was alerted that Nehlen had appeared on a white nationalist podcast.”
Nehlen did appear Dec. 9 on a podcast produced by Fash the Nation, a site that explicitly endorses white supremacy. He also appeared on the same podcast in December 2016, so his association with Fash the Nation is not new.
In the Breitbart article published Wednesday, Washington editor Matthew Boyle wrote that “Nehlen tweeted that he was reading a book that blames Jews for anti-Semitism — something that is obviously inaccurate and entirely unacceptable.”
Nehlen said a year ago he planned to read this book.
“I’ve marked it down as a must get,” he wrote in a public Reddit chat in December 2016.
Breitbart’s claim to have suddenly realized what Nehlen stands for just does not add up. The notion that Breitbart’s rejection of Nehlen was a matter of conscience seems dubious after the site’s editor in chief, Alex Marlow, told CNN last week he directed coverage aimed at discrediting Leigh Corfman’s account of being sexually touched by Moore when she was 14, even though Marlow actually thought Corfman was telling the truth.
Breitbart was willing, for political reasons, to cast doubt on an allegation of sexual abuse that its top editor believed and now is selling the idea that an ethical compass steered it away from Nehlen.
Nehlen became a liability for Breitbart, to be sure, but his greatest flaw was being a likely loser in a post-Moore environment in which Breitbart is searching for winners.