Category Archives: The Right

Steve Bannon on Politics as War

This article might be a misinformed as all the other stories about Mr. Bannon, or it might not be.
WSJ 11/19/2016 By Kimberley Strassel

It’s hard to think of Steve Bannon as a low-profile guy. He has garnered about as many headlines over the past week as Donald Trump—no small feat. He is the executive chairman of the hard-right Breitbart News, among the most aggressive voices online, its website an attack machine against Democrats and “establishment” conservatives. President- elect Trump chose Mr. Bannon this week as his chief strategist and senior counselor, a slot usually filed by someone eager to play a presidential surrogate on TV.

Yet Mr. Bannon—who joined the Trump campaign in mid-August to propel its thunderbolt victory— professes no interest in being the story. “It’s not important to be known,” he says in a telephone interview Thursday night, among his first public comments since the election. “It was Lao Tzu who said that with the best leaders, when the work is accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.’ That’s how I’ve led.”

Nor does he profess to care that Democrats and the media are portraying him as a “cloven-hoofed devil,” as he puts it. “I pride myself in doing things that matter. What mattered in the campaign was winning. We did. What matters now is pulling together the single best team we can to implement President- elect Trump’s vision.

He continues: “How can you take anything seriously from a media apparatus—paid the amount of money you people are paid—that systematically missed something that was so obvious, that missed Brexit, that missed the Trump revolution? You’d have thought they’d have learned their lesson on November 8.” Slight pause. “They clearly haven’t.”

Here are a few things you’ve likely read about Steve Bannon this week: He’s a white supremacist, a bigot and anti-Semite. He’s a selfdescribed Leninist who wants to “destroy the state.” He’s associated with the “alt-right,” a movement that, according to the New York Times, delights in “harassing Jews, Muslims and other vulnerable groups by spewing shocking insults on social media.”

You’ll have seen some of Breitbart’s more offensive headlines, which refer to “renegade” Jews and the “dangerous faggot tour.” You maybe heard that Breitbart is gearing up to be a Pravda-like state organ for the Trump administration.

Mr. Bannon is an aggressive political scrapper, unabashed in his views, but he says those views bear no relation to the media’s description. Over 70 minutes, he describes himself as a “conservative,” a “populist” and an “economic nationalist.” He’s a talker, but unexcitable, speaking in measured tones. A former naval officer, he thinks in military terms and likes to quote philosophers and generals.

He’s contemptuous of the media, proud of Breitbart, protective of the “deplorables,” and—at least at the moment—eager to work with everyone from soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

At first Mr. Bannon insists that he has no interest in “wasting time” addressing the accusations against him. Yet he’s soon ticking off the reasons they are “just nonsense.”

Anti-Semitic? “Breitbart is the most pro-Israel site in the United States of America. I have Breitbart Jerusalem, which I have Aaron Klein run with about 10 reporters there. We’ve been leaders in stopping this BDS movement”—meaning boycott, divestment and sanctions—“in the United States; we’re a leader in the reporting of young Jewish students being harassed on American campuses; we’ve been a leader on reporting on the terrible plight of the Jews in Europe.” He adds that given his many Jewish partners and writers, “guys like Joel Pollak, these claims of anti-Semitism just aren’t serious. It’s a joke.”

He blames the attacks on a lazy media, noting for instance that the “renegade Jew” line wasn’t Breitbart’s. Conservative activist David Horowitz (also Jewish) has taken responsibility for writing the headline himself, in a piece about Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.

The Lenin anecdote came from an article in the Daily Beast by a writer who claimed to have spoken with Mr. Bannon in 2013: “So a guy I’ve never heard of in my life claims he met me at a party, and then claims I said something about Lenin, and this is taken as gospel truth, with nobody checking it.

What about the charge of white supremacism? “I’m an economic nationalist. I am an America first guy. And I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world, have said repeatedly strong nations make great neighbors. I’ve also said repeatedly that the ethno-nationalist movement, prominent in Europe, will change over time. I’ve never been a supporter of ethnonationalism.”

Mr. Bannon says the accusations miss that “the black working and middle class and the Hispanic working and middle class, just like whites, have been severely hurt by the policies of globalism.” He adds that he urged candidate Trump to reach out in his campaigning. “I was the one who said we are going to Flint, Michigan, we are going to black churches in Cleveland, because the thrust of this movement is that we are going to bring capitalism to the inner cities.”

Why does he think that leftists are so fixated on him? “They were ready to coronate Hillary Clinton. That didn’t happen, and I’m one of the reasons why. So, by the way, I wear these attacks as an emblem of pride.”

Mr. Bannon is fiercely proud of the bomb-throwing Breitbart News, too. He credits it with “catching and understanding this populist movement” as far back as 2013, narrating the rise of the UK Independence Party in Britain, the exit movement for Scotland, and ultimately Brexit. “We were on to this change years before Donald Trump came on the scene,” he says.

He acknowledges that the site is “edgy” but insists it is “vibrant.” He offers his own definition of the alt-right movement and explains how he sees it fitting into Breitbart. “Our definition of the altright is younger people who are anti-globalists, very nationalist, terribly anti-establishment.”

But he says Breitbart is also a platform for “libertarians,” Zionists, “the conservative gay community,” “proponents of restrictions on gay marriage,” “economic nationalism” and “populism” and “the anti-establishment.” In other words, the site hosts many views. “We provide an outlet for 10 or 12 or 15 lines of thought—we set it up that way” and the alt-right is “a tiny part of that.” Yes, he concedes, the alt-right has “some racial and anti-Semitic overtones.” He makes clear he has zero tolerance for such views.

All this said, Mr. Bannon explains he’s on sabbatical from Breitbart and has had “nothing to do with the site since August 15,” when he joined the Trump campaign. Now he will take an “extended leave of absence and cut all association with the site while I’m working at the pleasure of the president.” He adds that Breitbart “didn’t get a scoop from the campaign from the minute I took over; they’ve had to scramble like everybody else.”

Yet given its loyalty to Messrs. Bannon and Trump, won’t Breitbart serve as an attack dog against Republicans who defy the new president? Mr. Bannon says he believes the site will “call it as it sees it” and that even the Trump administration will be open for criticism if it doesn’t “stay true to its vision.” He adds: “If we don’t, I assume they will hammer us.”

As for how Breitbart will treat other Republicans: “Do I see them jumping in and backing Paul Ryan? Probably not. But I have no control over that. I’m sure if you look at some of the names being rumored for positions, walking through Trump tower, folks like [South Carolina Gov.] Nikki Haley, and you look at the comments section of Breitbart, I’m sure they aren’t exactly high-fiving. But that’s fantastic. The reason that Breitbart has gotten so big is because it has spirit.

Mr. Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign was never made clear, though fellow adviser Kellyanne Conway called him the campaign’s “general” and a “brilliant tactician.” Mr. Bannon describes a close alliance of himself, Ms. Conway and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who developed a very “tight strategy” that relied on targeted speeches, rallies and social media. They envisioned two possible paths to the White House: one that hinged on Nevada and New Hampshire; the other that “leveraged Ohio” and rolled up Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin. By the last week they saw the latter plan coming together.

The claim that the Trump campaign was chaotic in the final months is wrong, Mr. Bannon says. It benefited from “excellent data” furnished by the Republican National Committee and an operation in San Antonio set up by Mr. Kushner. The campaign was looking closely at “rural communities and the hinterlands that held a lot of votes,” which the Clinton campaign had “basically ceded” to Republicans. Mrs. Clinton also made the mistake of trying to “close the deal on a coalition” (minorities, millennials) that “she’d never closed on before.”

Mrs. Clinton aside, the reason Mr. Trump won, he says, “is not all that complicated. The data was overwhelming: This is a change election. People weren’t happy with the direction of the country. So all you had to do was to give people permission to vote for Donald Trump as an agent of change, make sure he articulated that message.” That, and paint Mrs.

Clinton as “the guardian of a corrupt and incompetent elite and status quo.” Mr. Bannon believes Mr. Trump to be uniquely suited to make the case, as “one of the best political orators in American history, rated with William Jennings Bryan.”

Now it’s a new world, and given his reputation it is interesting to hear Mr. Bannon talk about what he is “most proud of.” One thing is that “you see nothing but unity on the Republican side. I like saying that, having been a very anti-establishment leader of a very anti-establishment movement, that we were able to come together with people like Reince Priebus, to overcome our differences in a coalition. To have this great victory and realize that if we are going to put the policies of a President Trump into effect, we’ve got to continue to work as a coalition.”

His affinity for Mr. Priebus (“a terrific partner”) seems real, and he says bluntly that the Trump victory “would not have been possible without the RNC”—though he adds with a rare chuckle that the RNC “was a little anxious at times.” Mr. Bannon brushes off concerns that there will be a White House power struggle between him and Mr. Priebus, given that Mr. Trump says the two men will be “equal partners.”

“Listen, this is not Bush 41 or Bush 43 or Mitt Romney. This is a President-elect who gets information directly. He works in concentric circles.”

Mr. Bannon has confidence about passing big reforms. “Does Paul Ryan think that everything Breitbart stands for, Steve Bannon stands for, is great? No. Do I think that everything he stands for—in particular his omnibus [spending bill]—is great? No. Can we work together to implement Donald Trump’s vision for America? Can we do that? Oh yeah.”

He concedes that “there are going to be times when we really, really disagree.” But those are “in the future” and for now the priorities (tax reform, ObamaCare) “that we’re working 24 hours a day on here with Vice President-elect Pence, who is going to be our connection to Capitol Hill,” are energizing everyone.

He’s proud of the “broad scope of people” they are bringing in for talks: Ms. Haley, Mitt Romney. He’s proud that the first job offer—to former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for national security adviser—went to a “registered Democrat,” and that the country is going to see “a lot of interesting choices.” Mr. Trump “knows how to mix and match, get the best out of people, and I think it says something about what a historic figure he could be.”

As for Mr. Bannon, don’t expect to see him on cable. “People say get out there. But I see no purpose in trying to convince a bunch of media elites who only ever talk to themselves. I never went on TV one time during the campaign. Not once. You know why? Because politics is war. General Sherman would never have gone on TV to tell everyone his plans. I’d never tip my hand to the other side. And right now we’ve got work to do.”

Ms. Strassel is a member of the Journal editorial board and writes the Potomac Watch column.


Advice to Congress

Former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, who died this week, writing in a Jan. 17, 2007, op-ed for the Washington Post:

The brewing fight in Congress over continued funding of the war in Iraq . . . is an ominous reminder of 1975, when Congress cut off funding for the Vietnam War three years after our combat troops had left. With the assistance we promised South Vietnam in the 1972 Paris Accords— U.S. equipment, replacement parts and ammunition—it had won every major battle since we left. But Congress lost the will to keep our promise and killed the appropriation. The result was a bloodbath.

I spent 16 years in Congress, much of the time on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee grilling defense secretaries about the conduct of the Vietnam War. Then, as defense secretary I spent four years on the other side of the table, holding fast to an exit strategy I believed in, “Vietnamization.” I never lost a vote during those four years. But it would have been devastating if Congress had cut the purse strings before our troops were withdrawn and before the South Vietnamese had learned to stand on their own. . . .

Finally, Congress must set the tone by admitting who the enemy is—political correctness be damned. There is the moderate, Westernized Islam on which we have hung our hopes, and there is everyone else. . . . And if allowed to play out to its goal of world domination, radical Islam will make the “domino theory” of Southeast Asia pale by comparison.


The Case for a Really Open GOP Convention

A very good, thought provoking article for me.
WSJ 4/9/2016

As the odds rise of a contested Republican presidential convention, Donald Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s camps are insisting that one of them must be the nominee. The Trump argument is that even if he falls short of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination, denying it to him at the convention would amount to antidemocratic theft. Mr. Cruz appears to think that finishing second means finishing first if the guy who beat him can’t win on the initial convention ballot.

Eric O’Keefe is here to say: whoa. The veteran Republican grass-roots activist sees a contested convention as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the delegates of a private political party to assert their power. The results of the GOP primaries are hardly representative of the party’s will, Mr.

O’Keefe says, because state parties have been wrecked by domineering state legislatures. Why should Republicans bow down, for instance, to the results of statemandated open primaries that allow liberal and independent voters to bum-rush what is supposed to be a private poll?

“There’s nothing that special or even good about the governmentrun primary process,” Mr. O’Keefe says. Relishing the opportunity for Republican delegates to stand up for themselves, he is gearing up a campaign to educate and encourage them to exercise their prerogatives at the convention and to ignore specious insistence that they follow some imaginary obligations. “The delegates have been going to conventions for years and treating them like Super Bowl parties because there was nothing else to do,” he says. “But this year they have the opportunity to practice a great national tradition, to exercise their legal, historical right to defeat a man who opposes most of what they believe in, and instead nominate a candidate who represents them.”

As you might suspect, the “man” Mr. O’Keefe referred to is Donald Trump.

“I hate bullies, and of late I’ve come to hate them more,” Mr.

O’Keefe says. “Trump means institutionalized bullying. Tyranny grows from ambitious people grabbing whatever levers of power are available.”

The 60-year-old Mr. O’Keefe has plenty of experience with pushing back against bullying—in Wisconsin. The state that helped make his dream of an open Republican convention look like it could become a reality is also the state that not too long ago sought to throw him in jail for exercising his constitutional rights.

Mr. O’Keefe—who skipped college, had a brief stint in business and then got swept up in libertarian politics—by the mid-1980s had become disillusioned with how politicians of all types rig the system to maintain their hold on power. He turned to issue-oriented politics instead, and took up causes like promoting term limits, fighting against eminent-domain abuse and other ways of restoring the influence of citizens over how they are governed.

“I am not interested in driving policy or candidates,” he says.

“I’m interested in self-governance, in having people learn what it is that they own, and then exercising that power. Our citizens have been turned into spectators—it’s what the left wants.”

Mr. O’Keefe ran many of his issue-oriented campaigns from his adopted home of Wisconsin (he was born in Michigan), where he heads the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a self-described “statewide network of thousands of pro-growth Wisconsinites.” After Scott Walker was elected governor in 2011, Mr. O’Keefe was impressed when Mr. Walker pushed through Act 10 legislation to reform the state’s public unions.

This was exactly the sort of government-limiting reform that Mr. O’Keefe believed in, and when Republicans in the state Senate came under recall threat, he stepped in. He fired up his fundraising networks, and the Wisconsin Club for Growth ran issue ads extolling Act 10, ads that became the main counter to a unionfunded anti-Act 10 advertising juggernaut. The GOP kept the Senate in 2011, and Mr. Walker beat back a recall vote a year later.

The left-leaning permanent government in Wisconsin was furious about how things turned out. In particular, the Democrat-infused state prosecutor’s office wanted payback.

John Chisholm, the state district attorney in Milwaukee County, launched a secret grand jury-like probe known as a “John Doe” against Mr. O’Keefe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and 29 other conservative groups in an attempt to pin a crime on somebody, anybody, for violating campaignfinance laws. The investigation included predawn house raids, subpoenas and the imposition of a gag order on the targets.

District Attorney Chisholm picked the wrong guy to try to gag. Having spent years fighting against entrenched political power, Mr. O’Keefe found himself in government crosshairs and ordered not to talk about it. Risking legal sanctions, he spoke on the record to this newspaper’s editorial board in 2013 about the John Doe and what he believed was a story of political revenge.

Mr. O’Keefe still gets teary when he recalls the worst moments of the probe, but it left him with some lessons. “One is that no one should ever underestimate how easy it is for government to slip into terrifying abuse,” he says. “If they did this in Wisconsin, there are literally hundreds of government employees around the country ready and willing to attack their citizens too.”

It took two years, many Journal editorials, and the state Supreme Court to exonerate the targets of Mr. Chisholm’s vendetta. Some are seeking justice to discourage future such abuses. On Monday, Mr. O’Keefe’s lawyer, David Rivkin of the Washington, D.C., law firm Baker Hostetler, will step into federal court in Wisconsin to pursue a civil-rights suit on behalf of Cindy Archer, another victim of the probe. Despite the collapse of the Wisconsin John Doe investigation, similar campaign-finance assaults on conservatives have spread to Montana, Texas and Missouri.

Make no mistake: Mr. O’Keefe isn’t a fan of campaign-finance laws, which he regards as attempts to muzzle speech. Laws limiting political contributions “are created by the politicians, to cripple challengers, who are the equivalent of startup companies,” he says.

“Imagine if IBM was the only company in the country, and you had a limit of $1,000 of venture capital to any competitor. You’d never have another business.” Mr. O’Keefe helped found the Center for Competitive Politics to fight against laws impinging on speech rights.

Which brings him back to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr. O’Keefe has been researching the history of conventions and collecting material for meetings with GOP convention delegates to present his case. He will tell them that they have an obligation to nominate a better generalelection candidate than Mr.

Trump—not merely to spare the country from Mr. Trump’s policies, but to reassert the party’s constitutional right to operate as a wholly private, autonomous political actor.

Mr. O’Keefe was particularly offended by Mr. Trump’s recent threat to sue the Louisiana Republican Party to force more of its delegates to support him.

“These delegates are exercising a core aspect of political freedom.

They don’t need government permission to speak or government regulation of how they vote,” Mr.

O’Keefe says. “He’s behaving like a tyrant when he doesn’t even yet have power.”

What about the argument that letting the delegates decide the nomination at a contested convention would mean a return to the smoke-filled backroom bargaining of the past? “And what’s wrong with that process?”

Mr. O’Keefe replies. “It worked well. Those rooms were full of engaged citizens—people who had an interest in the success of their party and their country.

They vetted the nominations, they imposed accountability, they shook up the system.”

Voters are angry today, he adds, because they feel disenfranchised. A contested convention invites engagement.

The problem, he says, is that the GOP over the years has become “flaccid organizationally, and structurally.” It has forgotten its authority and its role in the constitutional system, forgotten that its own rules refer to what technically takes place in each state as nothing more than a “presidential preference vote.”

“This is about taking back the private party system,” says Mr.

O’Keefe. “The states took away the rights of private nominations long ago. But in the case of the national party—it is a voluntary organization and it sets its own rules.” Part of his campaign to educate the GOP delegates and the media will be this reminder: The only rules that count are those the convention itself adopts at the outset of the gathering—rules that can also be changed as the convention unfolds. For the record, he says he isn’t acting on behalf of any candidate, and he could live with any number of nominees other than Mr. Trump.

Mr. O’Keefe’s bet is that once the delegates embrace that freedom, Mr. Trump can’t win because about “75% of those delegates in Cleveland are anti-Trump.” And imagine how “wonderful” it could be, Mr.

O’Keefe says, if the delegates exercised their liberty on the national stage.

“There they are in Cleveland, grasping their legal and historical right to nominate the most powerful person in the world,” he says. “The delegates may not know it, but they will not only be saving the Republican Party and the country—they’ll be reviving a tradition of self-governance.”

Ms. Strassel writes the Journal’s Potomac Watch column.

The man who defeated Wisconsin prosecutors now says party delegates have the right to choose any nominee they want, and they should use it.

‘This is about taking back the private party system,’ says O’Keefe, who sees the primaries as tainted by government intervention.


Conservatives, Please Stop Trashing the Liberal Arts

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Scalia. And I consider myself way on the conservative end of the scale. We don’t diss math because white collar criminals use it. We don’t speak against sex because some men rape women. Why don’t we think and discuss liberal education the same way?

By Christopher J. Scalia
March 27, 2015 6:07 p.m. ET

Dismissing the liberal arts seems to have become a litmus test for conservative politicians.

Earlier this month, addressing the issue of student debt, Sen. Marco Rubio joked that students ought to know in advance “whether it’s worth borrowing $40,000 to be a Greek philosophy major. Because the market for Greek philosophers is tight.” His remarks echo North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who in 2013 mocked liberal-arts courses and said, “I don’t want to subsidize [a major] that’s not going to get someone a job.” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have passed legislation encouraging students to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines rather than the liberal arts.

This is an unfortunate trend. Conservatives should be among the strongest defenders of the liberal arts, for at least two reasons: one economic, the other philosophical and political.

A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce did show that unemployment rates for recent humanities and liberal-arts majors are higher than for, say, biology and life-science students. But the difference is not great: In 2011-12 the rates were 8.4% and 7.4%, respectively. The unemployment rate for recent computer-science, statistics and mathematics graduates was 8.3%. So while humanities and liberal-arts graduates are not making out like bandits, the difference between them and their STEM peers is exaggerated.

Income data provide an even stronger rebuttal to the stereotypes. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that humanities and social-sciences majors earn more right after college than students majoring in physical sciences, natural sciences and math. And although they earn less at that stage than peers who major in professional and pre-professional fields, they earn more than those peers by the time they reach the peak earning years of 56-60 years old. (On the other hand, science and math majors earn much more than either group of majors during those peak years.)

Income and employment are surely important, but financial reward is not all that a college education offers to student and the state. By perpetuating this notion, conservatives ignore a long tradition that places the liberal arts in the center of a thriving society and an informed citizenry.

Thomas Jefferson recognized that a broad education could ensure the survival of the new democracy. He recognized that “even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” To defend against this threat, Jefferson wanted “to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purpose.”

The liberal arts, Jefferson recognized, have a practical value that has nothing to do with direct economic benefits: They are linked to the vitality of a commonwealth and the survival of a free people. It’s easy to see how such knowledge could help a politician, but Jefferson encouraged a general education for “the people at large” to protect themselves from politicians.

Considered in light of Jefferson’s argument, Mr. Rubio’s choice of Greek philosophy as a useless major seems especially inapt.

Apart from specific historical and philosophical knowledge, the liberal arts also provide general intellectual tools that reinforce democracy. Liberal-arts professors use the phrase “critical thinking skills” so often that our students could turn it into a drinking game. But we do so because the term conveys a serious and valuable idea: Students who read and comprehend difficult works, engage with sophisticated ideas, and express themselves clearly are well-suited to contribute to a representative government. Such a citizenry is valued by the left—speak truth to power!—but also by the right, which distrusts centralized power and promotes a stronger civil society.

Yes, college is too expensive. Of course, we need to find ways to control tuition and to ensure that graduates don’t find themselves chained by debt. But conservatives won’t solve these problems by scorning the liberal arts. Instead, they will deprive students of our great intellectual heritage and leave them less capable of governing themselves—and that would be profoundly unconservative.

Mr. Scalia is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, a public liberal arts college.