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Bannon holds rally for Republican candidates but none show up

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© AP Steve Bannon speaks in Elma, New York: ‘Let’s go back in time.’

By Adam Gabbatt in Elma, New York, The Guardian

As Donald Trump held midterm rallies this week in front of thousands, his one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon made his own, rather more low-key return to the campaign trail.

Bannon appeared in front of 200 people at a firehouse outside Buffalo, New York, ostensibly to campaign for Republicans based in the area. But in a visceral demonstration of just how far Bannon’s stock has fallen since leaving the White House 14 months ago, none of those Republicans running for office turned up.

Instead – in a move unlikely to please his former boss – Bannon spent the first part of his speech at the Jamison Road volunteer firehouse in Elma talking up his own importance in Trump’s 2016 victory, in an apparent attempt to thrust himself back into the national spotlight.

“Let’s go back in time,” Bannon said, in a potentially revealing turn of phrase.

“When I came into the campaign as CEO in mid-August [2016], we were down, what – eight,10, 12, 16 points – double-digits down in every battleground state. Not a lot of money, not a lot of organization.”

There followed a Trump-style riff – a retelling of the obstacles and hardships the Trump campaign overcame to win a thrilling victory on 8 November.

The difference is that in Bannon’s version, he is very much front and centre, the power – or, as Saturday Night Live portrayed him, the grim reaper – behind Trump, whispering in the candidate’s ear, guiding him to victory.

Bannon, clad in familiar green Barbour jacket, grey hair swept back, recalled what he told Trump soon after signing on to the campaign.

“I said: ‘The numbers show that working class people in this country will unite around a leader who will return America to her former glory.

“‘This whole campaign is going to be compare and contrast. She [Hillary Clinton] is the representative of a corrupt elite, and you are the voice of the working people in this country.’

This recounting is unlikely to impress Trump, who claimed Bannon had “lost his mind” after leaving the White House, but then the president is probably not following his former guru as closely as he once did.

When Bannon left his job as Trump’s chief strategist in August 2017, reportedly after clashing with colleagues, he returned to Breitbart News, the organization Bannon had once declared “the platform for the alt-right”.

He could be “more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on” than in the White House, Bannon claimed, but the reunion proved to be short-lived. Bannon was booted from Breitbart in January of this year after saying Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with a Russian lawyer was “treasonous” in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. The volume prompted Trump to speculate about the state of Bannon’s mind and brand him “Sloppy Steve”.
‘Everybody talks about the dark side of him’

The debacle left Bannon with some catching up to do to regain relevance in conservative politics. Wednesday marked a beginning of sorts – the former chief strategist drew a crowd of just 38 to an event in Staten Island, New York, on Monday – but the Elma event had got off to an inauspicious start when the original venue cancelled amid threats of violence.

Bannon had originally been slated to appear with David DiPietro, running for re-election to the New York state assembly, but after the first venue pulled out, so did DiPietro.

A couple of hours before the event, Michael Caputo – conservative strategist, organizer of the Bannon event, and DiPietro’s campaign manager – still thought DiPietro might actually turn up. Caputo said he had invited all Republicans running for office in the western New York area, but had yet to receive a single reply.

“It might be no one,” Caputo said.

He was right. Even Chris Collins, the US congressman for New York’s 27th district who is running for re-election despite having been charged with federal securities fraud, stayed away.

But Bannon can take some encouragement from Wednesday night. There were at least some people in the crowd who were happy to spend time with him.

“If it wasn’t for Bannon, believe me, Trump wouldn’t have had the traction he had,” said Barry Horwitz, a 76-year-old racehorse owner wearing a pair of beige, American-flag emblazoned trousers.

“Everybody talks about the dark side of him. But read his credentials. He was in the navy, he was at Goldman Sachs. He’s filmed a lot of movies.”

It could be that Bannon never escapes his image as a dastardly, “dark side” figure. The New York Republican stalwart Carl Paladino, who ran for governor in the state in 2010, certainly didn’t help to dispel it when he introduced Bannon to the stage.

“He has been described by some as a white nationalist,” Paladino told the crowd, before listing off a rogues’ gallery of European far-right political parties Bannon has supported.

“Bannon has done more than anyone to introduce the alt-right into mainstream American life.”

Bannon spoke for about 25 minutes, warning of the ills of the “marxist left” and eventually explicitly praising Trump on job numbers, the border, and Korea.

And as he drew to a close, the former hedge fund manager showed off the knack for appealing to the man in the street – however disingenuous that appeal may be – that brought him, and Trump, such success.

“If you gave me the choice between the first hundred people who showed up here at Jamison firehouse today, in a red ball cap, to govern the country, or the top hundred partners at Goldman Sachs, I would take these red ball caps every day,” Bannon said, to whoops and whistles from the crowd.

“Think about what the country would be if we took the first hundred of you and you made the decisions,” he said. “Well, that’s the closest we’ve got with Trump.”

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Bannon holds rally for Republican candidates but none show up
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