On 17 August, amid sinking poll numbers Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced a shake-up in his senior campaign staff and appointed right-wing news executive Stephen Bannon as campaign CEO and promoted pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. It may be recalled that the move to replace Republican Party's presidential nominee's previous chairman Paul Manafort — who had been pushing Trump to stick to a teleprompter-mandated script rather than flying off the handle — was seen as a step down or demotion of sorts for Manafort.
Trump hired Bannon, head of Breitbart News, to head his campaign with an eye on playing up his populist message — and to double down on his raucous rallies. Interestingly, Bannon's Breitbart News website is virulently anti-Hillary Clinton and his appointment was seen as Trump's way of thumbing his nose at Republican leaders who have been urging him to tone down the shoot-from-the-hip style of speech he used effectively in the primaries. A couple of days after Bannon's appointment, Trump, who had vowed to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants if elected president, appeared to undergo a shift as the struggling Republican candidate reached out to minorities alienated by his harsh rhetoric. However, we are not too sure how long will his campaign CEO, an extreme right-winger, be able to keep up his end of the deal.
Breitbart News and its high-pitched rhetoric for same-race baiting diatribes when Bannon was its editor makes it hard to understand how he will play down Trump's virulent image as an anti-immigrant or a "racist" person, now that he is Trump's campaign CEO. In the same vein, Breitbart News has been accused of pushing anti-gay bigotry and has even given a mouthpiece to anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders like Austin Ruse, whose faction the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), has been labeled a hate group.
What brings us to question the hilarity of Bannon's appointment, are his views on immigrants. Bannon is a pernicious opponent of H-1B visa — a programme that brings thousands of Indian skilled workers to the US. In an interview with Trump in November 2015, Bannon lamented that two thirds of Silicon Valley CEOs were Asians. Breitbart News has been a vocal supporter of anti-immigrant policies and has even run campaigns against the H-1B visa programme.
The interview, which was aired in Novemnber 2015, discusses the case of Snapdeal founder Kunal Bahl. Citing Bahl's instance, Trump refers to him as "a man who went to Harvard" (Bahl went to Wharton Business School) and who could not stay in the US after his studies were over because his H-1B visa was turned down. Asserting that talented people must not leave the country, Trump says that "this successful company with thousands and thousands of employees" could have been generated jobs in the US. "It is not good. We have to do something about it. People are coming in and they are taking jobs. They are getting paid less money."
Agreeing with Trump, Bannon had then said that American technology companies were “letting go highly trained IT workers, and even forcing them to train their foreign replacements” brought in through the H-1B visa programme. The interview is just a peg — a peg for something the Trump camp represents.
Donald Trump's new campaign CEO is a flame-thrower in cargo shorts, Associated Press report said. Bannon's career path has been an improbable journey from Goldman Sachs insider to conservative filmmaker to media provocateur to campaign chieftain. His installation at the top of the Trump campaign offers fresh evidence that the GOP nominee has no intention of reining in his brash, outsider's style or cozying up to the GOP establishment despite his campaign's recent struggles.
"There has been no bigger cheerleader in the media for (Trump) than Breitbart News, and he just hired his biggest cheerleader to continue massaging him," said Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart News editor told AP. Shapiro resigned in March, saying Breitbart had shaped the website into "Trump's personal Pravda" and had failed to defend one its own reporters who said she'd been roughed up by Trump's then-campaign manager.
Shapiro, in fact said, "But there will be no screaming matches between Steve and Trump. Steve knows where his bread is buttered."
Bannon "may focus Trump, because he's good at working with talent," Shapiro said Wednesday. "He may also just confirm to Trump that he ought to double down on being Trump."
Shapiro described Bannon's skill set as that of a knife fighter — one with a "vicious, unstable quality." "There are very few people who have ever worked with Steve Bannon who have escaped without a Steve Bannon thoroughly blue tirade," Shapiro said.
Keith Appell, a political consultant whom Bannon hired to promote a movie he'd made about Sarah Palin, describes Bannon as a hard-driving perfectionist with both strong organisational skills and a film-maker's gift for storytelling.
Unafraid to play favorites, Breitbart early last year prominently featured positive stories about Ted Cruz, including an exclusive behind-the-scenes photo shoot with his family the night before the Texas senator announced his presidential run. As Trump gained steam later in the year, the media site began pumping out pro-Trump stories.
Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said the website has figured out how to push political story angles that animate "an audience of a particular orientation," in this case an angry subset of Republicans that predates the tea party movement and now overlaps with Trump's base.
"It's almost a throwback to an era when media outlets and political organisations were closely aligned," Rosenstiel said. He said it's an open question whether Trump, in turning to Bannon, can use the internet "as an animating structure" for his campaign without embracing more traditional methods involving party structure, get-out-the-vote efforts and a political ground game.
"There's a larger question here," Rosenstiel said. "Can you use the internet to win a general election?"
"He gets the need to personalise and humanise what Trump wants to do," Appell said.
The Breitbart News website's founder, the late Andrew Breitbart, once admiringly described Bannon as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Bannon. Riefenstahl, for the uninitiated, was a filmmaker vilified after World War II for her propaganda pieces about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
With inputs from agencies
First Published On : Aug 22, 2016 15:59 IST