There appears to be a movement afoot to create an appearance of distance between White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and the right-wing website he used to run, Breitbart News. Either that or the chaos and dysfunction that has consumed President Donald Trump's first few weeks in office has left even his most diehard supporters willing to turn their backs on him.
A new report this week claimed that the right-wing website's "honeymoon with [the] establishment wing of [the] Trump White House may be over," more than a month after another report claimed Breitbart's former CEO turned White House mastermind was “furious” with his former publication. According to Business Insider, the former Breitbart chairman is simultaneously attempting to run White House policy and strategy, while maintaining control of the site's coverage.
But Bannon's transition to a more professional role has reportedly been accompanied by a shift to pragmatism that has unnerved the loyal coalition of white nationalists who are the backbone of Breitbart and who helped elect Trump. On two of the foundational hardline platforms of Trump's campaign, immigration and health care, Bannon has reportedly become a moderating force in the White House.
Buzzfeed News reported that "two administration sources pointed to chief strategist Steve Bannon as the man who preserved the current iteration of DACA," the executive action signed by former President Barack Obama to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Bannon reportedly battled against other administration officials, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, to slow down Trump's promise to the end the program on his first day in office (a stark difference when compared to Breitbart's anti-immigrant coverage).
Bannon's effort to save the measure backed by members of both parties is less of a turn towards moderation and more of a strategic ploy to engender goodwill for future immigration battles, Buzzfeed reported. DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants granted a reprieve to attend school and work, are reportedly not a top threat to Bannon's ethno-nationalist populism.
“They’re Americans. They understand the culture,” one unnamed source said of Bannon's more lenient position on DREAMers.
Bannon's former publication apparently takes a harsher view on his work helping sell House Republicans' plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Breitbart attacked the GOP proposal as “Obamacare 2.0" immediately after it was unveiled Monday night:
While the site has so far avoided directly criticizing Trump for championing the bill, new reports of tensions between the publication and the White House this week may suggest an impending clash -- or, again, at least the appearance of one.
“This is war,” Breitbart senior Washington editor Matt Boyle wrote in an internal Slack chat obtained by Business Insider. “There are no sacred cows in war,” Boyle reportedly told others at his site. According to Business Insider's sources, Boyle has also told Breitbart staffers that Bannon is guilty of "treason" against the online conservative media giant.
For his part, Boyle told the Hill on Wednesday the report by Business Insider is “fake news.”
Since his Valentine's Day report casting doubt on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus's future in the Trump administration, citing sources close to the president, Boyle has actually been granted increased access to the administration. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer even granted him an oval office visit with Trump.
But Boyle was reportedly first chewed out by Bannon, who was upset Breitbart's coverage appeared to be an attack ordered by him. From Business Insider:
According to the two sources, Bannon was so furious that he phoned Boyle after the story was published and unloaded on him. Boyle hadn't sought to notify Bannon he was publishing the story in advance, the sources said.
Bannon further aggravated Boyle that week when he instructed him not to publish additional articles critical of Priebus, prompting the Washington editor to tell others that Bannon had betrayed Breitbart and was guilty of “treason,” according to a source.
The special attention Breitbart received since only kept Boyle's target off the White House for a bit, however. This week, Boyle took Spicer to task for inaccurately stating that the GOP health care plan constituted a full repeal of Obamacare.
"[W]e are a proudly independent news organization," Boyle later told the Hill.
"They thought they could satisfy Boyle by giving him a one-on-one interview with Trump," one unnamed source relayed to Business Insider. "But the thing about Boyle is you can't stop him. You can't control him."
Whatever the various machinations between Trumpland and Breitbart's world may actually be, it is clear that whoever is leaking hopes to cast the impression of a fiercely independent Breitbart that won't be cowed by its former boss or the president of the United States. It would also certainly be in Bannon's interest to create an air of separation between himself and the right-wing media organ as he attempts to sell his nationalist policies as mainstream.