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Rookie who's running The Donald's campaign show

Stephen Bannon
Stephen Bannon

In the year of the outsider, with the unexpected rise of Senator Bernie Sanders and the jaw-dropping ascent of Mr Donald Trump in the presidential race, another newcomer is making a splash on the political scene - Mr Trump's campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon.

With no prior experience in running a presidential campaign, Mr Bannon, 62, would seem like an odd choice for any candidate.

But the former head of right-wing news website Breitbart News appears to have the bluster and bravado that The Donald obviously values.

Breitbart's motto, according to Bloomberg, is "honey badger don't give a s***", referencing a viral video of a honey badger doing whatever it wants, which seems quite fitting with the Trump campaign's broad ethos.

Pulled in to resuscitate the flailing Trump campaign in the middle of last month - less than three months before the Nov 8 poll - Mr Bannon himself has received some negative press of late.

British newspaper The Guardian reported a week after his new appointment that he had registered to vote in Florida - a key swing state - but did not live at the address that was registered.

Other news outlets have reported that his voter record is now being investigated, an ironic twist of events considering that Mr Trump has been trumpeting the evils of voter fraud and how it might lead to a "stolen" election.

News outlets have reported that Stephen Bannon's voter record is now being investigated, an ironic twist of events considering that Mr Trump has been trumpeting the evils of voter fraud and how it might lead to a "stolen" election.

 

The New York Post also dug up divorce papers, which painted him as a man who had roughed up and threatened his ex-wife during their marriage, while a recording obtained by online news outlet BuzzFeed shows him referring to a former employee as a "bimbo" and vowing to ram comments she made "down her f****** throat" .

While relatively new to the Trump campaign, Mr Bannon is not new to the notion of going after establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle - Mr Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton having been one of his key targets.

Besides attacking Mrs Clinton through Breitbart, Mr Bannon was behind a more subtle operation as the founding chairman of the Government Accountability Institute, a non-partisan research organisation, whose president Peter Schweizer wrote the book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story Of How And Why Foreign Governments And Businesses Helped Make Bill And Hillary Rich.

But Mr Bannon was not always a man on a mission out to drown the establishment.

Born to a middle-class family in Virginia state, Mr Bannon signed up for the navy straight out of college, but was later drawn to the glamour of Wall Street. So he enrolled in Harvard Business School and then joined investment bank Goldman Sachs.

After working in the bank's New York office, he later moved to Los Angeles to specialise in media and entertainment. In 1990 he and a few colleagues set up their own investment bank specialising in media.

While negotiating deals for his clients, he picked up an ownership stake in a package of five TV shows and struck gold, with the hit show Seinfeld being one of them.

After eight years, Mr Bannon's firm was bought by French bank Societe Generale, which gave him the financial freedom to dabble in filmmaking, which ultimately led him to the news industry.

When Breitbart News was starting out, Mr Bannon lent office space to the organisation.

"Our vision - Andrew's vision - was always to build a global, centre-right, populist, anti-establishment news site," Mr Bannon told Bloomberg, referring to the organisation's late founder Andrew Breitbart, who died suddenly of heart failure in 2012.

That was when Mr Bannon took up the mantle as the news outlet's executive chairman and slowly fashioned it into a platform for the Alternative Right - a movement that opposes establishment conservatives and is concerned with issues of white identity.

What effect Mr Bannon will eventually have on Mr Trump's campaign, the evolution of the Republican Party and the outcome of the election remains to be seen, but one thing is true for now: the rookie is running the show.

Melissa Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Rookie who's running The Donald's campaign show'. Print Edition | Subscribe