Just hours after stepping down from his role as White House chief strategist on Friday, Steve Bannon had returned to Breitbart News as executive chairman of the conservative media outlet.
In his first public comments after his departure was announced, he told Bloomberg News that he would be “going to war” on behalf of President Donald Trump. And he told The Weekly Standard that one of his primary objectives would be to “crush the opposition,” including West Wing aides like economic adviser Gary Cohn and national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.
“Bannon will be going after the people whom he considered to be diluting the nationalist agenda that Trump has been articulating,” said Dan Kennedy, associate professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern and a nationally known media commentator. “I don’t think he’s going to go after Trump himself, but he will be targeting people he sees as part of the Republican establishment.”
On Tuesday, however, Breitbart surprised the news industry by censuring Trump for his new strategy in Afghanistan. At least one reporter took direct aim at the commander-in-chief, writing, “I voted for Donald Trump because he promised change. I may have made a mistake.”
Bannon once called Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right,” a venue through which he could promote a populist political movement. And it has amassed a large readership. According to a report by SimilarWeb.com, the website racked up nearly 118 million page views in May, more than NPR, TMZ, and The Wall Street Journal.
But Kennedy isn’t so sure that Bannon will have more power at Breitbart than he did as Trump’s right-hand man. “Bannon will be promoting extremist rhetoric through the megaphone of Breitbart, but whether that will have any effect remains to be seen,” he explained. “It certainly seems like he had been completely marginalized in the White House, so I don’t think he’s going to have less power than he had as part of the administration, but I think it’s a stretch to say that he’s going to have more power.”
According to Politico, Bannon recently met with Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who bankrolled Breitbart. As the news site reported, “Some people close to Bannon believe he could…launch a Mercer-funded media venture.” Other news sites, like Axios, have reported that Bannon is interested in expanding the Breitbart enterprise to include TV, with a particular focus on launching a conservative cable network to compete with Fox News.
Kennedy doesn’t think Breitbart TV will come to fruition in this form, saying it would be too hard and too expensive. “It’s too difficult to get cable providers to carry your channel,” he explained, “and once you’re on the box, it will be too difficult to penetrate.” For him, any TV venture would have to live online. For example, he pointed to the web model popularized by far-right radio host Alex Jones, whose show can be found on his website InfoWars.com. “Jones does all of his conspiracy theorizing online, so why couldn’t Breitbart do that?” Kennedy said. “It’s not something that would be particularly attractive to Fox News, because their audience is generally older, but it could be attractive to Breitbart.”
No matter how Bannon’s media ventures pan out, Kennedy would not be surprised to see him return to the Trump administration in some capacity. He pointed to Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as two examples of staff members who seemed to “hang around” the White House after they had been fired. “I’ve seen the way things work with Trump, and it doesn’t seem like anybody goes away,” he said, noting that Trump reportedly told aides that he never should have fired Flynn just two days after letting the general go. “When people leave, they never seem to be fully out, and I expect that’s going to be the case with Bannon as well.”