When Steve Bannon was ousted as Donald Trump's chief strategist in August, the nationalist firebrand generated loads of buzz about his post–White House future. "Steve is now unchained. Fully unchained," a source close to Bannon told the Atlantic. "He's going nuclear," another friend told the magazine. America should prepare itself for "Bannon da barbarian," he reportedly told his own pals.
But for all the big talk, the alleged conquerer has yet to make much of a mark with his new persona.
On Monday, BuzzFeed reported that in August 2016, Bannon—then still the executive chairman of Breitbart News, and not yet Trump's campaign executive—hatched a plot to infiltrate Facebook with a conservative mole. According to reporter Joe Bernstein:
The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights.
Gaeck sent Bannon an email with information about a job opening at Facebook, writing, "This seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo [Yiannopoulos] with INTEL about the job application process over at FB."
"Can u get on this," Bannon replied.
Except the apparent scheme—which some Trump critics are already suggesting might not have even been legal—didn't pan out. This is just the latest piece of evidence against Bannon's being some kind of charismatic strongman who should not be crossed. Although many on the left are disturbed by the power Bannon is perceived to enjoy, despite a long, blustery 60 Minutes interview, his post–White House life hasn't exactly been earth-shattering, either.
Since August, Bannon returned to Breitbart News, and is currently helping the campaign for Roy Moore, GOP candidate for the US Senate in Alabama. His ex-boss is backing Moore's opponent, Luther Strange. (Confusingly, at the same Friday rally where Trump called NFL players who protest police brutality during the national anthem sons of bitches, the president said he "might have made a mistake" in backing Strange over Moore.) We'll have to wait and see if Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice, comes out on top in Tuesday's runoff special election. But either way, the candidate has enjoyed a lead in public polls going back before Bannon left the White House, making it hard to argue the Barbarian swooped in to the rescue here.
On a recent trip to Asia, Bannon met with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and a Chinese Communist Party official, which the New York Times took as a sign he might have some clout on the world stage. But Bannon's foreign policy preferences—not being distracted by the "sideshow" of North Korea, waging economic war on China—do not seem to be getting much love right now. Meanwhile, Bannon has also met with the far-right Freedom Caucus in Congress to voice his frustrations with the current Republican agenda, which remains a total disaster thanks in part to Trump cutting deals with Democratic leaders on everything from the debt ceiling to immigration.
The fact is Bannon is still very far from realizing his (stated) policy dreams, including increasing taxes on the rich or regulating Facebook and Google like public utilities. If he wants to maintain his reputation as an unchained barbarian, he's going to have to work a lot harder than he is now.
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