Since leaving the White House Steve Bannon has been quite busy, fomenting a grass roots revolution within the GOP, replete with plans to primary recalcitrant Republicans who don’t share his vision, and repopulate the senate with candidates whom he deems favorable (Roy Moore being a pyrotechnic failure hasn’t dimmed his ardor for this project.) Additionally, Bannon has been toying with presidential plans of his own. Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair:
That has at least been a passing thought. In October, Bannon called an adviser and said he would consider running for president if Trump doesn’t run for re-election in 2020. Which Bannon has told people is a realistic possibility. In private conversations since leaving the White House, Bannon said Trump only has a 30 percent chance of serving out his term, whether he’s impeached or removed by the Cabinet invoking the 25th amendment. That prospect seemed to become more likely in early December when special counsel Robert Mueller secured a plea deal from former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Bannon has also remarked on the toll the office has taken on Trump, telling advisers his former boss has “lost a step.” “He’s like an 11-year-old child,” Bannon joked to a friend in November.
While Bannon praised Trump during our conversations—he said he’s the best orator since William Jennings Bryan—he doesn’t deny he was unhappy in the White House. “It was always a job,” he said. “I realize in hindsight I was just a staffer, and I’m not a good staffer. I had influence, I had a lot of influence, but just influence.” He told me he now feels liberated. “I have power. I can actually drive things in a certain direction.”
Bannon back at the helm of Breitbart may indeed have a form of power and the ability to drive the right wing narrative a certain direction. But is it the direction that the Republican party as a whole wants to go?
Not surprisingly, the idea of Bannon as a political figure, let alone a presidential candidate, inspires ridicule and venom from the Republican establishment. The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Bannon’s roster of candidates a bunch of “cranks and outliers.” Former McConnell chief of staff Josh Holmes said Bannon is a “white supremacist.” Stuart Stevens, a veteran of five Republican presidential campaigns, told me that Bannon is “an odd, strangely repulsive figure who is trying to use the political process to work through personal issues of anger and frustration.” He added, “like many people in their first campaign, he confused his candidate winning with the fantasy voters supported him.”
A prominent Republican described Bannon’s crusade as a vanity exercise doomed to fail. “I think there was a lot of rage when he was in the White House,” the Republican said. “Steve had to subsume his ego to Donald, who Steve thinks is dumb and crazy. With Steve, it’s not about building new things—it’s about destroying the old. I’m not sure he knows what he wants.” As evidence, he pointed out the recent Virginia governor’s race, where Republican Ed Gillespie got crushed by nine points running on a Bannon-esque platform defending Confederate monuments and inciting fear over illegal immigrant crime. “The issues didn’t just fail, they failed miserably,” the Republican said.
Bannon’s recent New York Times article did pretty much paint him as a delusional nihilist and not grounded in reality at all. He spun Ed Gillespie’s loss as not his own fault so much as it was Gillespie’s for not following some plan vaguely known as “the Trump agenda.” Bannon was literally speechless the night of the Roy Moore debacle, stone faced and silent as he got into a limousine to leave what was intended as a victory celebration that instead turned into more of a wake, not just for deeply flawed candidate Moore, but many hoped for the extreme right wing agenda as well. But Bannon purports not to be worried about these things.
Bannon’s response to all this criticism is a variation on his personal motto: Honey badger don’t give a shit. “I don’t give a fuck,” he told me when I visited him one morning at the Bryant Park Hotel. “You can call me anything you want. Do you think I give a shit? I literally don’t care.”
Bannon, like Trump, has hit the rarified air that rising to the level of the Peter Principle introduces one to. Bannon has said about himself, “I’m not a political operative. I’m a revolutionary.” Political operatives win presidential elections, not revolutionaries. In the post-Trump world, it will become increasingly important to the GOP to play by the rules in order to rally the disillusioned and regain credibility. Steve Bannon is on his way to join the hallowed company of the dodo bird and the dinosaur.