Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel Sherman spent months following ousted White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and his heavily armed security detail, around the globe and observed the Breitbart executive back a losing candidate, air grievances about his Trump administration rivals–namely Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump–and bask in his own self-mythology. Sherman happened to be with Bannon when the tides began to turn on Roy Moore, the candidate Bannon was running as an intended affront to Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP establishment. Although the problematic former Trump adviser gives a hell of a quote, Sherman’s time with the far right crank ultimately proved how over-hyped Bannon’s political instincts and supposed tactical genius were in the months following Trump’s upset electoral win. Other sources used Sherman’s profile as an opportunity to dunk on the white nationalist and so-called “great manipulator” known for looking like he just woke up on a lawn. From Vanity Fair:
Since Bannon left the West Wing, he’s had eight phone calls with Trump, most initiated by the president, according to a White House official. “The few conversations Steve and the president have had since he was fired this summer have primarily been opportunities for Steve to beg for his job back,” said the White House official. A Bannon spokesperson countered, “anyone around Steve since he left the White House can see he is very happy now out of the White House!”
Apparently Bannon would much rather have been cleaning up the PR mess regarding the revelation that the Islamophobic and homophobic candidate he backed in Alabama was said to have been banned from a local mall for preying on teenage girls. Sherman managed to spend time with Bannon as he was doing damage control following a Washington Post story alleging that Moore, an assistant district attorney in his 30s, molested a 14-year-old girl he picked up outside of her parents’ custody hearing.
The situation, and the various arrayed forces for and against Moore, closely resembled two earlier crises Bannon had weathered with Trump: the release of the Billy Bush tape and the aftermath of the white nationalist march in Charlottesville. In both, Trump ultimately followed Bannon’s tactical playbook—doubling down at all costs—with large success in the first instance and a highly questionable result in the second.
Bannon huddled over his BlackBerry firing off e-mails to Breitbart reporters he’d dispatched to Alabama to discredit the Post story. “I got my two best guys down there,” he said while waiting for Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead to call. Bannon’s orders: deny, deny, deny. “One of the things I realized during the campaign is that, like in the military, it all comes down to one or two decisions in the heat of battle,” he said. “You have to double down.” In Moore, he knew he had a less capable candidate. (His first choice had been Alabama congressman Mo Brooks.) “I’m gonna tell Judge Moore to do his thing,” Bannon said. “They’re not cut out for this, though.”
New alleged victims kept coming forward, but Bannon’s confidence wasn’t shaken and he instead implied that the state’s electorate would be willing to forgive an alleged child molester because they apparently shared those tendencies:
Despite the new headlines, Bannon was confident that his strategy was working. He sensed he had a deep understanding of the electorate. “This is Alabama,” he explained. “The age of consent is 16 for a reason.”
Bannon wasn’t able to simulate the success he had with Trump and Alabama, a state the president won by 28 points, ended up electing its first Democratic senator in 25 years.
Since leaving the White House, Bannon’s imagined populist insurgency took another L when his other candidate got demolished after running a campaign similar to aspects of the Make America Great Again credo:
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.
The most startling aspect of the profile is the distorted prism through which Bannon views himself. Sources allege that Bannon bandied about a possible presidential run in 2020 given his rumored reservations regarding Trump even finishing out his first term. (A rep for Bannon denied that he’s considering a presidential bid after the Vanity Fair profile was published.) The Breitbart executive often refers to himself as a “honey badger” or a “junkyard dog,” espousing the notion and he’s a rough and tumble street fighter despite getting chauffeured around the world exclusively in private jets and being guarded by a team of former soldiers while funneling Mercer money into the campaigns of questionable fringe candidates.
“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,” Bannon said of his post-White House life, prior to the December 12 election. “I have power. I can actually drive things in a certain direction.”
So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.