Apparently, this is what Steve Bannon meant when he swore he would never turn on his old boss during a series of interviews he gave after leaving the West Wing.
The simmering feud between Breitbart and President Donald Trump intensified on Friday as the Trump communications team barred a Breitbart reporter from the press pool during a Trump rally in Alabama, where the president was campaigning for Luther Strange (aka "Big L") - his pick to permanently fill the Alabama senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump announced his support for Strange weeks ago, eliciting howls of outrage from Bannon and Breitbart, who have accused Strange of being a “swamp creature” and blasted him for his association with former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned earlier this year following a widely publicized sex scandal. Strange served as attorney general of Alabama (Sessions’ old job) under Bentley, and has been working with Trump for months after being appointed by Bentley to temporarily fill Sessions' old seat.
But for better or worse, Strange is Trump's man - for now, at least - and the president showered him with praise during the rally. But while cycling through his greatest hits (everything from the second amendment, to Hillary-bashing, to his promised border wall), he found time to slip in a subtle dig at Bannon, joking that he had "fired" certain former staffers for disloyalty. Bannon and Breitbart have consistently supported Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore, who will face off against Strange in Tuesday's crucial Republican runoff primary.
Anyone who has closely followed the many staffing changes at the White House will, of course, remember that Bannon and the White House communications department have offered conflicting accounts of the terms of his departure, with Bannon insisting that he left voluntarily, while the communications staff have suggested that he was fired.
A similar ambiguity exists surrounding the terms of Bannon loyalist and former Breitbart employee Sebastian Gorka's departure, who, as luck would have it, appeared on Fox Business just minutes before Trump took the stage to slam the president over his support for Strange.
In a brief segment, Gorka criticized Strange for his association with Bentley and claimed that Moore was the true “MAGA” candidate.
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Of course, when Bannon – who is back running Breitbart – promised that he wouldn’t use the website as a cudgel against Trump, he did so with the caveat that Breitbart would hold the administration accountable should it abandon the nationalist, populist agenda that Trump promised the American people during the campaign.
To wit, Breitbart has become increasingly frustrated with Trump’s perceived abdication of his nationalist agenda by sending more troops to Afghanistan (after promising to bring troops home) and, more intolerably, his decision to allow DACA to be preserved in law by striking a deal with “Chuck and Nancy.”
And now it’s decided to turn its guns on Trump, publishing now fewer than hald a dozen anti-Strange or anti-Trump headlines during the Trump rally last night.
More than a half dozen anti-Trump headlines running on Breitbart tonight— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) September 22, 2017
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And now, Axios is reporting that Steve Bannon has been confirmed to headline a Roy Moore rally in Alabama Sunday night, alongside Phil Robertson of the popular show “Duck Dynasty.” Axios, which noted that Strange is also the pick of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a perennial Bannon foe, explained that “for Bannon to make a rare public appearance in such close proximity to Trump shows how invested he is in the race specifically, and attacking McConnell more generally.” But in attacking McConnell, in this instance, he is also striking at Trump.
In keeping with his promise to always support Trump against the establishment forces that Bannon says are trying to co-opt the Trump presidency, Axios reported that the Bannon camp is trying to spin the attacks against Strange as an indirect way of “supporting” Trump.
"Steve is coming to Alabama to support President Trump against the Washington establishment and Mitch McConnell. Steve views Judge Moore as a fierce advocate of Trump and the values he campaigned on."
To be sure, Breitbart’s strategy may be working. Trump appeared to admit during the rally last night that his Strange endorsement may have been a mistake, and that he would support Moore if he wins.
While the crowd at Friday’s rally cheered mightily for Trump, the cheers for his chosen candidate were less enthusiastic. As of Saturday afternoon, Moore leads Strange by nearly 9 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Whoever wins Tuesday’s primary has a virtual lock on the senate seat. And as the race draws closer, we expect to hear more from Trump. But will Breitbart succeed in convincing him to change his endorsement?
Given Trump’s distaste for “losers”, we imagine it’s not out of the question.