Steve Bannon returned to the far-right Breitbart News on Friday, just over one year since he left the site to lead Donald Trump’s then-flailing presidential campaign and months after becoming White House chief strategist.
“The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today,” Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow said Friday on the site. “Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda.”
“I feel jacked up,” Bannon told Weekly Standard. “Now I’m free. I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, ‘it’s Bannon the Barbarian.’ 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. And rev it up we will do.”
While White House officials have headed to the media, and vice versa, there’s no precedent for a chief strategist to resume running a news operation the same day ― not to mention promising to use the outlet as a weapon against adversaries.
Bannon’s departure was portrayed Friday as potentially the beginning of a public battle with members of the Trump team ― and perhaps even the president himself. The coverage of the West Wing shake-up at times more closely resembled that of a scene from Westeros.
“Winter is here,” said one source close to Bannon, evoking the “Game of Thrones” tagline, while another spoke of the former White House adviser now being “unchained.” There was even talk of “revolution” to come.
There was speculation that Bannon would now target the so-called “globalists” in the White House, such as national economic council director Gary Cohn and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, as well as the president’s family members Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Though Breitbart directed some criticism toward Trump following his gratuitous attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime ideological ally, the site otherwise tends to lay blame for setbacks on the White House “globalists,” congressional Republicans and the mainstream news media.
The possibility of Bannon or Breitbart turning on Trump should cause concern in the White House given the outlet’s influence on the president’s conservative base, which has continued to support the administration even as Trump’s overall approval rating reaches historic lows.
On Friday evening, Bannon told Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green that “if there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: 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’s clarification followed senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak tweeting earlier in the day a social media motto of late founder Andrew Breitbart: ”#War.”
Though Pollak stressed in an interview on MSNBC that the site would continue to be at “war” with its running list of targets ― the mainstream media, Hollywood, Democrats, the left and the Republican establishment ― there was a possibility that it could also aim at the Trump administration.
If Trump sticks to positions on immigration and trade favored by his political base, Pollak said, “he will continue, probably, to see positive coverage from Breitbart and from other conservative news websites and from talk radio.”
“But if he veers away, if he pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and tries to reinvent himself as a liberal, he will see that support erode very, very quickly,” said Pollak, who expressed similar concern Friday on Breitbart.
Bannon seems to think the administration has already veered off course, telling the Weekly Standard that “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”
“We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency,” he said. “But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”
Some former colleagues and critics of Bannon predicted he’d direct fire back on the White House.
“He will continue to use his weapon of choice, Breitbart, to attack his adversaries inside the West Wing ― mainly Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, etc. He will relentlessly attack Congressional Republican leadership like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell (and Jeff Flake and John McCain),” Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman and political commentator, wrote Friday on HuffPost.
Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro predicted Friday on Fox News that Bannon’s departure is “going to cause a major rift between Breitbart and Trump.”
He also suggested Bannon’s goal at Breibart would be to “declare himself the conscience of the nationalist, populist movement that he helped build” and to “use that power to smash the president when he thinks the president is wrong.”
But even if Bannon doesn’t immediately go after the president, he could provoke a split in Trump’s media base.
Rupert Murdoch, who owns the reliably pro-Trump Fox News and outlets like The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, and who speaks regularly to the president, reportedly urged him to fire Bannon on multiple occasions.
And now Bannon, according to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, “is gearing up for ‘war’ against Rupert Murdoch.”