By Jane Coaston
“The conservative movement is no longer represented by submissive, bow-tied conserva-nerds.”
Steve Bannon didn’t just run Breitbart News in his role as executive chairman of the organization — he reshaped it in his own image. Now that he’s out, his career in right-wing media might be over. But his stamp on Breitbart — and the site’s imprint on conservative media — won’t be erased.
Breitbart wasn’t supposed to be a political operation. Its original headquarters weren’t in Washington, DC, but in West Los Angeles, where Andrew Breitbart intended to launch a culture war against what he viewed as “the Democrat media complex” and progressivism in general (though the Atlantic pointed out in 2012 that much of Breitbart’s early efforts, like targeting ACORN and the Shirley Sherrod debacle, were political acts through and through.)
But Bannon wanted more. In 2012, after Andrew’s death, he said that Breitbart should be “the Huffington Post of the right.” A few years later, he decided that Donald Trump would be his vehicle to mainstream fame — and power. He believed that he, not Trump, was the source of Breitbart’s rising influence, the man behind the curtain who could take Trumpism without Trump to the masses.
He was wrong. As Jonathan V. Last wrote in the Weekly Standard January 9, “the Republican establishment was able to separate the ideas of Trumpism from the vessel of Trump — and they chose Trump.”
Kurt Schlichter of Townhall, a conservative website founded in 1995 as one of the first online communities aimed at right-wing readers, put it simply: “Good riddance.”
Now, Breitbart is left without its biggest personality in a conservative media environment more crowded than ever. New outlets are ever more willing to do what Andrew Breitbart envisioned: start culture wars, no matter the cost. Is there an end to the perpetual conflict?
Bannon reshaped Breitbart News from a site for culture warriors to a political operation
Bannon’s relationship with Breitbart News began roughly a year before the site launched in 2005 as Breitbart.com, a news aggregator similar to the Drudge Report. Bannon had leapt into making movies in the early 2000s, and Andrew Breitbart loved Bannon’s film about Ronald Reagan, In the Face of Evil.
Bannon started working with Breitbart, helping to find investors. He kept making movies, including The Undefeated, a documentary about Sarah Palin (in his review of the film, New York Post and National Review film critic Kyle Smith wrote that the movie is “so outlandishly partisan that it makes Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.”) Palin liked the film so much that she appeared with Bannon at a 2011 screening in Iowa. Andrew Breitbart helped to promote the event, telling a Bloomberg reporter that Bannon was the “Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement.”
Breitbart News did not set out to battle with mainstream outlets in a shared spirit of decorum. Andrew Breitbart didn’t want his site to be the new Weekly Standard or National Review.
The goal was to go after liberals, mainstream media, Hollywood, Democrats and anyone else who stood in the way, portraying conservatives as a besieged minority under the thumb of Big Liberal and “cultural Marxism,” depicting the left as morally wrong, inherently dangerous and also deeply foolish. Stories weren’t one-offs, but set pieces in an overarching drama: Right versus Left, Good versus Stupid Evil.
There were few rules; Andrew himself was more than willing to go on MSNBC and scream at Salon reporters. After publicizing the explicit photographs that former Rep. Anthony Weiner sent to a 21-year-old woman in 2011, Andrew went to Weiner’s press conference in search of a personal apology from the representative. As Andrew told Slate in 2010, “They want to portray me as crazy, unhinged, unbalanced. OK, good, fine. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.”
Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack in March of 2012, and Bannon became executive chairman of the organization. According to Dana Loesch, a conservative commentator and former associate of Andrew Breitbart, Bannon’s influence shifted Breitbart News’s emphasis away from culture.
“Andrew didn’t care about being a Washington insider, and he didn’t want to create a separate conservative media,” Loesch told me. Under Bannon, “you can see how the site became little more than a vehicle for Bannon’s petty squabbles” with Washington administration officials.
Ben Shapiro, another conservative commentator, agreed, saying that Breitbart “originally started as a site that was very much about fighting predominant media narratives and battling in the culture. That’s what Andrew cared about a lot.”
With Bannon’s leadership, that changed. Bannon didn’t want to start fights with MoveOn.org or MSNBC. Bannon wanted to win in DC. The shift within Breitbart from a website for the “happy warrior” to a site that viewed itself as a political action committee for the far right was a gradual one. By 2014, Bannon was telling staff that he wanted to destroy the Republican establishment, one wild-card candidate and angry rant at a time.
“I’ve never seen someone receive more credit for such little effort or accomplishment”
Donald Trump’s campaign was to be Bannon’s greatest triumph. After first supporting Ted Cruz‘s candidacy (and allegedly shopping a document showing Trump’s ties to organized crime), Bannon decided that Trump would be the best vessel for Bannon’s own political priorities: battling “globalist elites” and embracing a strange amalgamation of conservatism, populism, and thinly-veiled racism. In August of 2016, Bannon became chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign, and was named his chief strategist after Trump’s election victory.
Bannon believed that it was his policies and ideas that led to Trump’s victory, more so than Trump himself. But according to Loesch, that contributed to Bannon’s eventual dismissal and defeat.
“Bannon’s downfall was hubris. I’ve never seen someone receive more credit for such little effort or accomplishment and believe so much hype about themselves.” Bannon believed himself so untouchable that he called the liberal-leaning outlet The American Prospect in August of …read more
Read more here: Bannon’s Breitbart is dead. But Breitbart will live on.