Just a few days ago, Stephen Bannon was declaring war on all Trump's enemies. But now, on Bannon's Breitbart, the president himself is the target of sharp criticism. Is Bannon now turning against Trump too?
The tone Stephen Bannon struck in his interview with the Weekly Standard on the day of his departure from the White House, was martial. He will continue “going to war for Trump against his opponents – on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.” And he goes on to say, “I've got my hands back on my weapons ... I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There’s no doubt.”
It was a declaration of war against moderates in the White House – Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, among others, whom Bannon contemptuously calls “Javanka” or “the West Wing Democrats.” He blames them, as well as the moderate Republican House members, for Trump's divergence from his conservative agenda and his isolationist “America First” doctrine.
His most dangerous weapon in this war is the right-wing, populist news platform Breitbart News, to which Bannon returned on the day of his resignation as the closest political adviser to Trump.
Breitbart News has been a very influential platform, not just since the presidential election campaign. A study by data analysts from Harvard and MIT shows articles from the website were shared more frequently than pieces from other conservative news sites during the election campaign. However, after a record high of nearly 23 million users in November 2016, Breitbart has since lost influence. Last month, according to an analysis by comScore, the news portal recorded 12.4 million users, 32 percent fewer than in the previous year. A study by the analysis company MediaRadar also shows that the number of companies that advertise on the site has fallen from 242 to 26, between March and May. The initiative Sleeping Giants called for an advertising boycott against Breitbart following Trump's election; many companies followed suit.
With regular smear campaigns on Breitbart News, the mouthpiece of the right in America, Bannon could nevertheless harm the moderates around Trump. So far, however, it seems as if his declaration of war has been limited to the liberal camp and has not been directed against the president himself.
Trump's Afghanistan Plans Mocked
But an article from Breitbart News, on Trump’s Afghanistan strategy, has already given rise to initial doubts. Until now, the site was regarded as Trump’s in-house publication, which practically paid court to the former real estate mogul. This contribution on Trump’s Afghanistan strategy is uncharacteristically critical, practically a scathing review of his speech on Monday evening in Fort Myers, VA. In the speech, Trump announced that he might even increase the number of American troops in the Hindu Kush – and not withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, though it had been part of his "America First” policy.
The fact Trump wants to expand military deployment to Afghanistan, contrary to his campaign promise, will disappoint many, according to the Breitbart piece, mockingly entitled "Trump's America First Base Unhappy with Flip-Flop Afghanistan Speech." Another article complains that Trump’s strategy does not differ significantly from that of his predecessor, Barack Obama, a policy Trump had repeatedly and harshly criticized during the election campaign. On Twitter, Breitbart editor Joel Pollak had nothing but scorn for Trump's appearance: “Trump's #Afghanistan speech was Obama's speech minus the deadline & details.”
The site also criticized the president's vacillation on the issue of illegal immigration. The article refers to one report from the media page McClatchy, which states that Trump is planning amnesty for young migrants who illegally came to the United States as children. The liberal forces in the White House are said to have pushed Trump to this concession – in return, Congress is to bless the financing of Trump’s wall project.
Trump's ‘Merkel Moment’
Breitbart writes that the president will be violating his campaign promise, should he go through with the deal. Besides, he would undermine current laws. Still, during the election campaign, he had wholeheartedly announced that he would rigorously fight illegal immigration and work to enforce immigration laws. The website draws parallels between the deal and Merkel's refugee policies. According to the right-wing platform, she also broke the law in 2015. The author of the article therefore writes of Trump’s “Merkel Moment.”
Is Bannon still fighting for Trump, or is he already fighting against him? It's not yet clear at this moment. What is certain is that the president should not underestimate the potential danger that his former adviser represents. It is possible that the critical pieces were just a warning to Trump. If future policy is influenced too much by moderates for Bannon's tastes, further attacks could follow. A high-ranking Breitbart employee told Vanity Fair that they are quite willing to provide the votes for Trump's impeachment.