On Wednesday, August 17, Donald Trump hired Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, as his campaign’s chief executive.
On Friday, August 19, Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager until last week, stood down. Manafort, a Republican presidential campaign veteran from the 1970s to the 1990s, was a tremendous asset in helping Trump obtain the GOP nomination.
Long-time Trump and Manafort friend Roger Stone explained that Manafort did the right thing by bowing out quietly. Stone said that Manafort is guilty of no wrongdoing with regard to Ukraine — to accuse him of that is ‘actionable’ — and that the campaign is moving into a new phase. Stone also said that verbal attacks from Hillary’s people and the Media would have made Manafort’s staying on untenable.
Kellyanne Conway, a former pollster for Mike Pence, becomes Trump’s campaign manager and will be flying around the country with him to rallies and other public appearances. Conway can definitely hold her own, as seen in this Hardball clip with Chris Matthews:
With only 80 or so days to go until the election takes place on Tuesday, November 8, this move could work either way.
Manafort’s previous ten-year assignment which took him to Ukraine is thought to have been raising eyebrows.
My analysis is that, rightly or wrongly, Trump chops and changes where necessary. Corey Lewandowski energetically propelled him into all sorts of speaking engagements and rallies during primary season. He was a powerful, unpredictable personality that probably had to go once the Sisyphean task of reaching the magic delegate minimum came up. Therefore, Paul Manafort stepped in to surpass expectations.
After Labor Day, the election campaign will be in full throttle. Trump is looking for someone who thinks as asymetrically as he does, hence, Stephen Bannon.
Tomorrow’s post will feature a profile of Bannon. He is more than ‘just Breitbart‘. He had an incredible career with several business and political epiphanies which brought him where he is today. Again, more on that later.
For now, let’s examine the rise of Breitbart and Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute (GAI).
I am not Breitbart‘s biggest fan. Until several weeks ago, accessing the site caused my PC to stall. Going into archive articles dated as late as May 2016 produces the same problem. The layout is hideous and the readers’ comments even worse.
However, for those who read it — and millions more are — it continues to follow in the footsteps of its founder, the late Andrew Breitbart with exposés at home and abroad.
The work of the GAI has helped to propel Breitbart to the forefront of what is called alt-right media.
Bannon co-founded the GAI and serves as executive chairman.
The GAI’s president is Peter Schweizer, who wrote Breitbart’s promotional book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich and has also written a recent e-book, Bush Bucks, as well as an exposé of the establishment called Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison.
In 2015, Bloomberg landed in-depth interviews with both Bannon and Schweitzer. Joshua Green’s article, ‘This Man Is The Most Dangerous Political Operative In America’ — referring to Bannon — is a must-read.
Schweizer worked for several years at the Hoover Institution. There he learned the fine art of investigative research, beginning with Soviet archives. By 2004, he took a closer look at American politics. That year, he co-authored The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty which was well-received. Far from being a compilation of journalistic efforts, he was able to interview many Bush family members personally.
All his digging caused him to be disillusioned with Washington. He told Bloomberg’s Green that he saw the establishment as being similar to professional wrestling. The oppositional rhetoric, just like wrestlers’ violence, is merely for public consumption. Ultimately, he said:
I eventually realized they’re actually business partners.
In 2011, he published the aforementioned Throw Them All Out, which made 60 Minutes. The segment concerned congressional insider dealing.
Disillusioned, he left Washington for Tallahassee, Florida, where he established GAI. The Institute is in a quiet area of ante-bellum style buildings. Green describes it as:
… a sleepy cul de sac of two-story brick buildings that looks like what you’d get if Scarlett O’Hara designed an office park. The unmarked entrance is framed by palmetto trees and sits beneath a large, second-story veranda with sweeping overhead fans, where the (mostly male) staff gathers every afternoon to smoke cigars and brainstorm.
Note that they smoke. This can only help their work. Smoking aids conviviality, conversation and concentration.
Schweizer is friendly and easy to talk to. One could almost say that he and Bannon have a good cop-bad cop thing going on:
Bannon nurses this regular-Joe appeal by forbidding him from wearing a tie when he’s on TV.
Clinton Cash is the book of the 2016 campaign season. It was carefully conceived to avoid the usual left-wing — Democrats included — accusation of ‘conspiracy theory’.
Bannon told Bloomberg’s Green:
We have a mantra. Facts get shares, opinions get shrugs.
As the Clinton back catalogue, which stretches back to the 1980s, is too extensive to cover in any one book, Bannon advised ‘periodicity’, or exploring one recent aspect of their dubious dealings:
So they’d focus only on the last decade, the least familiar period, and especially on the millions of dollars flowing into the Clinton Foundation.
GAI researchers got to work digging into the Deep Web — not the dark net with drugs and porn but the far reaches of the Internet:
GAI researchers plumbed tax filings, flight logs, and foreign government documents to turn up what the foundation withheld. Their most effective method was mining the so-called Deep Web, the 97 percent or so of information on the Internet that isn’t indexed for search engines such as Google and therefore is difficult to find.
Tony, GAI’s data scientist, spoke with Green and explained that he wrote software protocols to make searching less onerous:
Since this requires heavy computing power, Tony struck a deal to use the services of a large European provider during off-peak hours. “We’ve got $1.3 billion of equipment I’m using at almost full capacity,” he says.
The results were astounding (emphases mine):
This effort yielded a slew of unreported foundation donors who appear to have benefited financially from their relationship with the Clintons, including the uranium mining executives cited by the New York Times (who showed up on an unindexed Canadian government website). These donations illustrate a pattern of commingling private money and government policy that disturbed even many Democrats.
All the information had to be put forward into a readable book that would engage people, especially the media.
So, a young writer, GAI’s Wynton Hall, set out to work on a storyboard and approach that would make Clinton Cash irresistible:
Hall’s job is to transform dry think-tank research into vivid, viral-ready political dramas that can be unleashed on a set schedule, like summer blockbusters. “We work very long and hard to build a narrative, storyboarding it out months in advance,” he says. “I’m big on this: We’re not going public until we have something so tantalizing that any editor at a serious publication would be an idiot to pass it up and give a competitor the scoop.”
Wynton’s team are used to hearing him say:
ABBN — always be breaking news
Depth beats speed.
The approach works because journalists love receiving fact-filled material rather than fluffy pieces such as press releases. Furthermore, Big Media don’t have the money to employ their own investigative journalists:
“The modern economics of the newsroom don’t support big investigative reporting staffs,” says Bannon. “You wouldn’t get a Watergate, a Pentagon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend seven months on a story. We can. We’re working as a support function.”
This ‘support function’ allows this conservative outfit to get entry to The New York Times and other bastions of left-of-centre media. Wynton Hall describes it as:
Anchor left, pivot right … weaponizing
a story into Big Media.
It would be easier for him to propel these exposés into the small-time conservative online media bubble. Using the ‘anchor left, pivot right’ strategy enables him to go much further. Hall explained:
We live and die by the media. Every time we’re launching a book, I’ll build a battle map that literally breaks down by category every headline we’re going to place, every op-ed Peter’s going to publish. Some of it is a wish list. But it usually gets done.
Once that work has permeated the mainstream—once it’s found “a host body,” in David Brock’s phrase—then comes the “pivot.”
This is why Breitbart is increasingly quoted in Big Media stories this year:
“With Clinton Cash, we never really broke a story,” says Bannon, “but you go [to Breitbart.com] and we’ve got 20 things, we’re linking to everybody else’s stuff, we’re aggregating, we’ll pull stuff from the Left. It’s a rolling phenomenon. Huge traffic. Everybody’s invested.”
Even veteran Democrats are impressed with this new kind of conservative media. One told Bloomberg’s Green:
They’ve adapted into a higher species.
Ultimately, however, most senior Democrats think that Breitbart will go overboard and damage their own cause.
Bannon disagrees and says the GAI efforts are showing that:
the donors highlighted in Clinton Cash violated many of the principles liberals hold dear: “You look at what they’ve done in the Colombian rain forest, look at the arms merchants, the warlords, the human trafficking—if you take anything that the Left professes to be a cornerstone value, the Clintons have basically played them for fools. They’ve enriched themselves while playing up the worst cast of characters in the world.”
Agreed, but will the Left read the information?
Bannon said he is also taking older Clinton scandals to a new generation:
“There’s a whole generation of people who love the news but were 7 or 8 years old when this happened and have no earthly idea about the Clinton sex stuff,” he says.
That is so true, and that is why the Democrats are probably right in banking on ignorance. Talk about low-information voters. You couldn’t get much lower.
We are now into the sunset of the 2016 presidential campaign. Bannon could — and should — try to target Sanders voters within the remaining weeks. They would be the best target market for his anti-Clinton information.
Whilst I do not believe the skewed polling going on since the Democratic National Convention — Reuters have significantly altered their methods — I also don’t believe those who say Trump is strongly ahead.
That said, it would be something if the LA Times polls showing a one to two point difference end up being the most accurate. It’s interesting that the latest Los Angeles Times poll dated August 20 shows that he is half a point ahead of Clinton.
We’ll see what sort of magic Bannon can work for Trump between Labor Day and Hallowe’en.
Tomorrow: why Trump (probably) chose Bannon