Beltway Republicans respond to Bannon's return to Breitbart with collective yawn

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent
Steve Bannon heads to the White House Rose Garden to listen to remarks by President Trump on June 1. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Steve Bannon’s return to Breitbart News is being greeted by many Republican insiders with a shrug.

In fact, on the same day that the moon covered the sun, the consensus across a number of GOP operatives and congressional aides is that Bannon himself has been eclipsed by President Trump.

The ousted senior White House adviser may be back guiding Breitbart’s right-wing reactionary bomb-throwing, but he’s likely to find himself in the same position that left-wing sites like Daily Kos and Huffington Post occupied when Barack Obama became president in 2009, several Republicans told Yahoo News.

“These kinds of oppositional websites are much more potent when the movement they represent is not in the White House,” said one Republican close to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. “Kos became irrelevant and HuffPo basically transformed itself into a mainstream news site. The reality was that Obama had a bigger megaphone than those sites. And Trump as president has a bigger megaphone and a more loyal following than Breitbart.

“I haven’t heard any congressional Republican leaders express concern about Bannon going back to Breitbart. He’s a guy with a website. How much of a problem can a guy with a website actually be? He was much more of a problem when he had daily, hourly, access to the Oval Office,” the Ryan ally said.

Bannon did not respond to an email seeking comment. He was pushed out of the White House late last week and was already back leading an editorial meeting at Breitbart News Friday evening. “I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents: on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” Bannon said last Friday.

Alex Conant, who worked for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 Republican presidential campaign, said that “Breitbart has targeted [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and Ryan for years, with very limited impact. They’re both still their caucus leaders, and their support has never been stronger.

“I don’t know what changes, except Bannon has less power today than he did a week ago,” said Conant.

One McConnell ally concurred, calling Bannon’s influence “overblown.”

If Conant were still working in the Senate as an adviser to Rubio, Conant said, he’d “rather work with Breitbart than against it, but it’s not decisive.

“I’d think of them the same as any other ideological media: worth monitoring and engaging, but really not worth losing sleep over,” Conant said.

Steve Bannon arrives for a news conference with President Trump at the White House on Feb. 16. (Photo: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Some Republicans believe that Trump himself is a bigger threat to the party than Bannon because his presidency so far has been chaotic, unproductive and harmful to the party’s identity.

But former Breitbart News spokesman and Bannon colleague Kurt Bardella said that the site would “rally [its] audience to promote positions that are all but impossible for Republicans in Congress to maintain.”

Bannon is likely to go after congressional Republicans over funding for a border wall and on tax reform, Bardella said.

On tax reform, Bardella pointed out that Bannon has called for a 44 percent rate on top earners. He said that Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who is now a top economic adviser to Trump, “is going to be the one caught in the crossfire here as Bannon will seize the
narrative that the GOP tax reform effort … will reward the very people who brought upon us the financial crisis in 2008 at the expense of the working middle class.”

Conservative leaders like Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the House Freedom Caucus, might have reason to find common cause with Breitbart, Bardella said.

“The Freedom Caucus … see the Breitbart weapon as the only tool they really have to be able to influence the Republican leadership,” Bardella added.

Bannon’s departure from the White House was long anticipated. He had survived several months of tenuous job security.

Trump reportedly resented the popular perception that Bannon was something of a puppeteer, the real brains and power inside the White House. And Bannon had a falling-out with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, early in the Trump presidency.

Before joining the Trump campaign in August 2016 as a senior strategist, Bannon had turned Breitbart News into a headache for Republican congressional leaders. In particular, the site has frequently targeted Paul Ryan, in part because of Ryan’s frequent criticism of Trump during the presidential campaign.

In December 2015, Breitbart published an article that said their “investigation” had “revealed” that Ryan “seems to support border fences for himself, even as he denies the American people those same protections.”

The Breitbart article included a photo of a small fence that had been constructed around Ryan’s private home in Wisconsin, where his wife and three children live year round. The missive was written by a young Breitbart employee named Julia Hahn, who later followed Bannon into the White House.

Hahn’s job in the Trump administration is now reportedly at risk, and she did not respond to an email requesting a comment for this story.

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