Breitbart News still behind Bannon despite backlash

Mr Stephen Bannon speaking before introducing Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore during a campaign event in Fairhope, Alabama, last month. The shaming and shunning of Mr Bannon by Trump loyalists comes at a vulnerable time for the former White Hou
Mr Stephen Bannon speaking before introducing Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore during a campaign event in Fairhope, Alabama, last month. The shaming and shunning of Mr Bannon by Trump loyalists comes at a vulnerable time for the former White House chief strategist and Breitbart News, which he heads.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • Mr Stephen Bannon seems to have one last conservative ally in his current sumo-style stand-off with United States President Donald Trump.

Not surprisingly, it is Breitbart News, the media organ that Mr Bannon runs and which has long been the vehicle to promote his slate of populist "anti-establishment" Republican candidates.

The website and its chairman found themselves isolated on Thursday after Mr Bannon's comments to author Michael Wolff caused a backlash inside the White House, among rival conservative media outlets and among Mr Trump's supporters more broadly.

Mr Bannon's comments - he told Mr Wolff it was "treasonous" for members of Mr Trump's family and campaign staff to meet Russian representatives during the election last year - prompted a key backer, the billionaire Mercer family, to withdraw financial support for Mr Bannon's political activities on Thursday.

So far, however, the Mercers have not signalled that they will walk away from Breitbart itself, which would be a crippling blow.

Mr Bannon - who returned to Breitbart last August after a year as Mr Trump's campaign manager and chief White House strategist - has not disavowed his comments to Mr Wolff. But he has made concessionary statements since Mr Trump blasted him in a statement - "he lost his mind" - on Wednesday.

"The President of the United States is a great man," Mr Bannon said on Wednesday night on Breitbart's SiriusXM radio programme. "You know I support him day in and day out."

On his Thursday morning radio show, he added: "Nothing will ever come between us and President Trump and his agenda. We are as tight on this agenda as we have ever been."

But for the moment, at least, the damage appears to have been done.

Even as Breitbart reported the unfolding controversy in relatively even-handed fashion, its readers hurled lightning bolts at Mr Bannon.

"Has Breitbart News fired Bannon yet?" one wrote in a very long skein of negative comments about Mr Bannon on the site. "How do they distance themselves from this traitor?"

Breitbart's representatives, including editor Alex Marlow, did not return repeated requests for comment on Thursday.

Mr Bannon's effort to boost conservative candidates took its biggest blow on Thursday when billionaire donor Rebekah Mercer, in a rare public statement, said she was withdrawing financial support.

"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Ms Mercer said. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."

But Ms Mercer said she stays committed to Breitbart. Her family holds a minority stake in the organisation.

Rivals also took aim at Mr Bannon. During his Infowars programme, conservative conspiracy aficionado Alex Jones said Mr Bannon "stabbed America and the President in the back",

Mr Matt Drudge - the powerful conservative media aggregator who gave Breitbart's late founder, Mr Andrew Breitbart, his start - suggested in a tweet that Breitbart's chief executive Larry Solov and Mr Breitbart's widow Susie Breitbart "will take Breitbart into the fresh future", a veiled reference to dumping Mr Bannon.

The Washington Times put it more bluntly in a headline: "Are Bannon's Breitbart days numbered?" That suggestion was picked up by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said at the daily briefing on Thursday that getting rid of Mr Bannon was "something (Breitbart) should look at and consider".

The shaming and shunning of Mr Bannon by Trump loyalists comes at a vulnerable time for the former White House chief strategist and the media organisation he heads.

Mr Bannon's clout as a conservative-populist "anti-establishment" kingmaker was already in question because of his support of Ala-bama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who lost to a Democrat, Mr Doug Jones, in last month's special election.

At the same time, Breitbart's advertiser base has crumbled in the face of a persistent social media campaign aimed at its sponsors. People familiar with the site's finances, which are private, say it lost money last year despite being one of the most heavily trafficked conservative sites on the Internet.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2018, with the headline 'Breitbart News still behind Bannon despite backlash'. Print Edition | Subscribe