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2017-08-20 22:26:02
Mediator: Bannon Ready for #War With a Long List of Targets

Stephen K. Bannon left the White House with a frightful howl indeed.

While exiting stage far right on Friday, Mr. Bannon referred to himself as “Bannon the Barbarian” and declared that he was “jacked up” and ready to “crush the opposition.”

In a conversation with Peter J. Boyer of The Weekly Standard, Mr. Bannon said, “I have my hands back on my weapons,” the most important being his conservative website, Breitbart News — a “machine” he promised to “rev up” for what the site’s editor-at-large Joel Pollak described in a hashtag on Twitter as “#War.”

The reported target list included Mr. Trump’s opponents “on Capitol Hill, in the media and in corporate America,” Mr. Bannon told Bloomberg News.

It included Matt Drudge, the founder of The Drudge Report, Mr. Bannon’s ally, Sam Nunberg, told BuzzFeed News. “He bleeds, too,” Mr. Nunberg said of Mr. Drudge.

Breitbart had already been taking on the so-called West Wing globalists with whom Mr. Bannon clashed — the president’s economic adviser Gary Cohn; the national security adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster; senior White House advisers Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, to name a few.

And, finally, Axios reported, the list potentially included Fox News, should Mr. Bannon move to create Breitbart Television with the financial support of a backer like Robert Mercer.

The conventional wisdom conveyed in the breathless news coverage of Mr. Bannon’s exit was that he would be far more powerful outside the White House than he was within it — a dangerous proposition for both Mr. Trump’s opponents and surviving aides.

If true, it would mean that a post atop Breitbart News could rival a senior position in the most powerful office. And, given that Breitbart became its most aggressive self — with an appeal to at least some who consider themselves white nationalists — under Mr. Bannon, the rest of us may be in for an even wilder ride.

Lost in some of the hype related to Mr. Bannon’s return to Breitbart was the more complicated picture of how much impact he can truly have in his new role outside the White House.

At the least, Mr. Bannon’s return to Breitbart begins a new chapter in what has been a fascinating media proxy war — not between left and right or between establishment Republican and insurgent Republican, but among the factions of Mr. Trump’s administration.

Before Mr. Bannon’s ouster, Breitbart — surprise, surprise — had been fiercely attacking Mr. Bannon’s West Wing rivals like Mr. McMaster (“Endangering U.S. National Security,” said one recent Breitbart headline) and Mr. Cohn (“Spotted Partying with Wall Street Elite at Hamptons ‘Pink Party,’” said another)

But some of them — most of all Mr. Kushner — have had powerful defenders in other parts of the conservative media.

The Drudge Report kept pressure on Mr. Bannon in recent weeks with headlines like “Bannon on the Brink” and “Michael Savage: Bannon Didn’t Make This Presidency.”

So did The New York Post and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, both of which are controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is also a close confidant of Mr. Kushner.

That war is now over: They won. (Drudge was magnanimous, calling Mr. Bannon a “populist hero” last week). Now Mr. Bannon, who wouldn’t comment for this column, will have his hands full if he wants to take on both the Murdoch Empire and Mr. Drudge, as his allies suggest.

The Drudge Report remains the most powerful content aggregator in conservative media, driving online traffic and giving cues to talk radio and mainstream news producers alike.

Data from the web tracking site Alexa shows that Drudge had more than 440 million page views in the last month while Breitbart had nearly 63 million. A June report from SimilarWeb.com showed Drudge had some 1.2 billion page views in April, when Breitbart had nearly 118 million.

As The New York Times Magazine reported over the weekend, Breitbart has suffered a loss of advertisers because of a campaign by the liberal activist group Sleeping Giants.

Given Drudge’s size and ability to drive clicks, picking a fight with it does not seem like the wisest course. “In order to be really influential with Breitbart, you have to have a cohesive conservative media,” Charles Sykes, the longtime conservative radio host who became a leading anti-Trump voice last year, told me over the weekend. “If other outlets don’t pick their stuff up, it doesn’t have the same resonance,” Mr. Sykes said. “He needs talk radio, Drudge, Fox News, to act as megaphones.”

Breitbart did go to war with Fox News last year, attacking when it thought Fox hosts — like Megyn Kelly — were being too hard on Mr. Trump. It lived to tell about it — and then some.

If Mr. Bannon does move forward with a rival to Fox News, he will face the herculean task required to get a new channel onto cable systems, especially as people increasingly give up cable for online streaming services. If he were to acquire an existing channel, he would still have to persuade cable operators to carry it as Breitbart TV.

Mr. Bannon could team up with smaller competitors on cable, Newsmax or One America News Network. However, when I reached the head of Newsmax, Chris Ruddy, on Sunday, he said. “While I respect Stephen Bannon as being a voice for the conservative movement, I don’t think he represents it, and Newsmax has always had a policy and an approach of being a big tent.” Therefore, Mr. Ruddy said, “It wouldn’t really be a good fit for us.”

Then again, on the CNN program “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, Mr. Bannon’s biographer, Joshua Green of Bloomberg News, noted, “Bannon has always said that ‘TV is not where it’s at,’” noting that “the rising generation of populist conservatives were more web-focused.”

Online is where Breitbart derives its power. A study by researchers from Harvard and M.I.T. detailed in The Times Magazine on Sunday found that during the presidential election, Breitbart articles were shared far more than those of its conservative online competitors, showing its outsize influence.

That influence comes in no small part from its relationship with the very core of the Trump base. Mr. Bannon’s relationship with that base, through Breitbart, is what made him important in Mr. Trump’s administration. And it’s why he’ll remain important outside of it.

One administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed a distant hope that Mr. Bannon would use Breitbart to help advance Mr. Trump’s agenda rather than to undercut his team.

When I checked in on Breitbart Sunday afternoon, it was leading with a report depicting Mr. McMaster as overly deferential of Islam. It also featured posts crediting Ivanka Trump with forcing Mr. Bannon’s ouster and archly noting that the occasional displeasure that Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner have with Mr. Trump can “inexplicably find its way to the media.”

But the effects of Mr. Bannon’s exit on Mr. Trump’s remaining staff members may extend well beyond Breitbart. There were signs that his exit was giving new license to allied far-right provocateurs who had held their fire while he was there. “Now that Bannon’s out I can kind of say whatever I want to say,” Mike Cernovich, a far-right social media personality, told his followers on Periscope. What he wanted to say was that Mr. Bannon’s ouster was the result of “a Pence coup.”

This much is certain: With Mr. Bannon out, expect more informational chaos, more sound and more fury, but signifying what?