Everybody thinks of him as a diehard Trumpist - indeed, the architect of the still-vague blend of populism, nationalism and a sprinkling of conservative tenets.
But three short years ago, he was on board a very different train. At that point, in addition to running Breitbart, he was involved with the Government Accountability Institute, a watchdog organization he'd founded in 2012 with Peter Schweizer, the former Hoover Institution fellow who'd authored Clinton Cash. In 2015, the group was supporting Ted Cruz's run for president, and shopping opposition research on Donald Trump, research that alluded to the Trump organization having mob ties.
Well, as we know, one tragic night in May 2016 in Indianapolis, Ted Cruz threw in the towel. The GAI then, as the above-linked CNN story puts it, "curried favor" with the Trump campaign, and, as we also now know, it wasn't long (August) before Bannon was brought in to run that.
The GAI is financially backed by the Mercer family. The patriarch of that family is an intriguing fellow in his own right. Robert Mercer was born in 1946, so he was a first-wave boomer, a contemporary of Trump and both Clintons. (Bannon's a boomer as well, but of a subsequent wave. He was born in 1953.) Mercer was a computer nerd from an early age, designing a program for a donated IBM computer at a National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia in 1964. Got a PhD in computer science in 1972. Worked for IMB Research for a while. Was spotted by a hedge-fund bigwig, Nick Patterson, in 1993. Patterson preferred to work with tech nerds rather than finance people.
The Mercer family has also bankrolled Breitbart, but is now cutting Bannon and his website loose.
It gets weirder. Did you know that while he was in college, Bannon was a "Jerry Brown liberal," history nerd and a big Grateful Dead fan?
Apparently, Bannon's time in the Navy, during which the Iran hostage crisis took place, catalyzed his ideological shift.Old friends, acquaintances, and roommates who spoke to The Daily Beast described Bannon in his Virginia Tech undergraduate days as a “Jerry Brown liberal” who was a devotee of rock artists and jam-bands such as the Grateful Dead and Bruce Springsteen. He was a book-wormy-y “history nerd,” an idiosyncratic football player, and a charismatic “ladies man,” say his college peers. He was a force in campus politics who would, with a large pot of coffee, regularly preside over huddles of student leaders and activists in his apartment meetings that he and his college chums jokingly dubbed “The Kitchen Cabinet.”“I can remember one of [our] roommates saying, ‘Steve’s gonna end up in the White House one day,’” John DePaola, who lived with Bannon for a year, told The Daily Beast. “He was more intellectual than any of us.”
Lots of people have such shifts. Ronald Reagan comes to mind. A lot of the original editors of National Review, such as Willmoore Kendall, Frank Meyer, James Burnham and Whittaker Chambers, all of whom had been Marxists of one stripe or another. A little later, the neoconservatives made their transition. But you can usually discern some kind of thread of continuity, some underlying aspect of their worldview that made them say, "I thought this route spoke for my core values, but I see that this other route really speaks for them."
Can you detect anything like that in the Steve Bannon trajectory?
Especially since he is still all over the map, having supported a higher tax rate on upper-income Americans during last year's tax-policy deliberations.
And then there is what all this says about Donald Trump. Loyalty is something he demands from his sycophants, but he approaches it with blinders on. It's conditional and momentary. He may have beat up on someone in the past, or been beaten up, but he'll form an alliance as long as it's useful to him. And when it's not useful anymore? Buh-bye!
Something anyone currently sucking up to him would do well to keep in mind.