Bannon’s #War: Why Breitbart Turned on Trump

Last month, Steve Bannon — one of the most controversial figures in President Donald Trump’s administration — was fired from his position at the White House and returned to his previous role as head of Breitbart News.

The same day the story broke, news outlets were abuzz with rumors of an upcoming “#War” between Breitbart and the Trump administration, news that was helped along by anonymous sources, tweets from Breitbart contributors and even Bannon himself (who insists his departure from the administration was voluntary).

In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Bannon stated, “I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There’s no doubt. I built a f—ing machine at Breitbart. And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up.”

Granted, it’s important to note that the “opposition” of which he is speaking is not necessarily Trump. The Weekly Standard interview ended with a retelling of an exchange between Bannon and Trump, where Bannon says he told Trump, “Look, I’ll always be here covering for you.”

More likely for Bannon, that pushback will come from White House influences that the Bannon/Breitbart wing of the Republican Party view as liberal or Democratic, like Gary Cohn or H.R. McMaster — both of whom Breitbart has published several scathing pieces.

That being said, Bannon’s strategy since returning to Breitbart has not been to ramp up attacks on these so-called Democrats (these attacks have been consistently sustained from before Bannon’s return), but to instead attack Trump whenever he appears to be giving way to them,  perhaps in an effort to drive him back to his campaign promises.

It’s very difficult to find negative articles about Trump on Breitbart that were published before Aug. 18 (the day Bannon left the administration), but as soon as Bannon left, Breitbart shifted its positions.

That day, the outlet published an article by Joel Pollak warning that Bannon’s departure “may turn out to be the beginning of the end for the Trump administration,” comparing Trump to Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is viewed quite unfavorably among Breitbart-frequenting conservatives).

The next day, the outlet re-published an article from World Net Daily with the headline “Bannon’s Exit Means ‘Obama Wins 3rd Term.’”

Moving forward, Breitbart began to repeatedly criticize the administration on specific points of policy.

Most recently, this has taken the form of criticizing the president for his treatment of 9/11 — namely, that his speech did not sufficiently focus on “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Brigitte Gabriel, the president of Act for America, an anti-Muslim U.S. group, said on Breitbart Radio News that, “It was obvious that something has happened in the Trump presidency that has changed and changed dramatically.”

Perhaps worst of all, Gabriel also compared Trump to former President Barack Obama by stating, “It was literally a speech that could have been uttered by President Obama himself.”

Breitbart has also taken issue with Trump’s recent debt deal, publishing remarks by House Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-Ohio) rejecting that Trump’s decision was a “good deal for the American taxpayer.” More stirringly to its strongly conservative base, the outlet has also published articles linking the deal to Planned Parenthood funding and claiming that it will help pass pro-amnesty legislation.

Further back along the battle lines between Breitbart and the administration is Trump’s Afghanistan policy, as outlined in his August 21 speech.

Two articles connected his foreign policy directly with that of Obama’s, one of which drew a link between similar rhetoric, and the other of which quoted former NSA Director Michael Hayden as having said of the Afghanistan policy: “This is exactly what Barack Obama would have done.”

This is a distinct editorial shift for Breitbart. While they have covered Trump negatively in the past, those instances have been few and far between relative to the consistent negative rhetoric Breitbart is now directing at the president.

Even those pre-Bannon firing pieces that dealt with Trump’s broken promises often sought to provide him with excuses and rationale behind his actions.

Regardless, how much effect has this strategy had on the president and his approval ratings? Very little, it would seem. According to both Rasmussen daily polling data and FiveThirtyEight’s approval ratings model, Trump’s approval ratings have not substantively changed since Aug. 18.

That said, if Bannon wants to have a wider impact on policy, Breitbart’s newfound critical stance on Trump outside the White House could well be the way forward.

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