Melanie Paradis: Trump's legal woes are just more ammo for Bannon's war
When you listen to his speeches, he's not subtle. He's telling us all what he's doing. Why aren't people taking his word for it?
By: Melanie Paradis
When the FBI raided former American president Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago, many of his critics celebrated. Here, finally, would be the opportunity to acquire enough evidence against Trump to take him down as a viable political opponent.
Put any such optimism on pause. Instead, be wary that this has all been anticipated and planned for by Trump’s team, who regularly set traps for the Democrats. Not only that, but Trump’s ideological allies may be counting on the raid to create a far larger, and more dangerous political end game. What looks like a disaster for Trump may prove to be yet another boost to his hopes.
It may seem absurd. But Trump has a different audience and plays to it. And this audience has been prepared. Earlier this month, former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon delivered a speech to Republican activists at CPAC in Texas and participated in a Q&A session hosted by American Conservative Union Chair, Matt Schlapp. During his appearance, which occurred several days before the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago, Bannon warned that things are going to get a whole lot worse: “They are trying to put him in jail to make sure he cannot run again in 2024 and be the rightful President he should be right now.”
I wrote about Bannon in an essay here at The Line several weeks ago. As I wrote then, he has been orchestrating a plan to supplant traditional GOP gatekeepers, turning the party to his own ends. Once they have the GOP locked up, he and his allies seek to do the same thing with other key American institutions. He is not subtle; he discusses his plans openly on his popular podcast and in interviews. Remarkably, many still seem blind to what he’s trying to do.
The recent events involving Trump and the FBI are fascinating on their own merits, but must also be viewed through the Bannon lens. Is this a setback to the plan? Or just another part of it … or at least something that, even if better avoided, Bannon and others around Trump will find a way to make work for them?
As a strategist, Bannon has been planning for multiple scenarios, including those involving the potential arrest of Donald Trump. Again, this isn’t to say that he planned this, rather he planned for this, tactically. In developing political strategies for campaigns, you need to plan for multiple scenarios, even ones you’d rather avoid. You brainstorm all the things that could possibly go wrong (or right), and you develop a plan to leverage it.
Bannon has always been very, very skilled at doing this. In 2018, Bannon famously told Michael Lewis one of his tactics was to “flood the zone with shit.” One of the ways you do that is by muddying the waters and casting doubt by getting there first with your own version of events. It is no coincidence that we first learned about the FBI raid from Trump himself. This scenario had been planned for, and when it occurred, Trump and his people knew what to do.
In Bannon’s recent speech at CPAC, he noted that he’s about to take this show on the road. He builds an entire narrative that establishes what the stakes are: “In the next 24 months, starting on November 8th, through the ‘24 elections, we have the opportunity that will never come again, ever. Ever.”
Bannon refers to America being on the “edge of a revolution.” And he says: “We are at war. We are at a political and ideological war.” He claims the federal bureaucracy has merged with big tech, big media and big pharma, resulting in an authoritarian-style administrative state. To dismantle it, he has recruited “4,000 shock troops” using the precinct strategy (the subject of my last essay here) to shift the outcome of future elections: “We have the ability to shatter, shatter the Democratic Party as a national political institution. And how are we going to do it? Did you see Moms for America? We’re going to do it at school boards … election boards … medical boards … canvassing boards … state legislatures, county supervisors, the House, the Senate, all of it.”
In Bannon’s world, the administrative state is where the “Deep State” bad actors who allegedly control everything operate. Many Americans believe this theory. Ipsos did a poll at the end of 2020 asking Americans whether they believed that: “A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.” Only 47 per cent of Americans rejected that notion. For the many millions who agree with it, which version of the Trump arrest narrative do you think they are buying? Bannon’s, or the New York Times’?
This administrative/deep state is also, the logic goes, behind the many attempts to attack and discredit Trump. Bannon has sewn it all together: “Our responsibility, our duty, our mandate, our destiny in this time in history is quite simple. We have to take that on and take [the deep state] apart brick by brick.”
Bannon is weaving a narrative that allows people to support his agenda even if they aren’t natural or traditional political partisans, and even if they don’t particularly care for (or about) Donald Trump. Indeed, most of the time Bannon’s opponent is the government itself. When Bannon says “they” are trying to put Trump in jail, it’s not entirely clear whether he is referring to the administrative state, or the Democrats. He leaves it open to interpretation.
The Democrats still haven’t figured out how to combat this narrative. They don’t even seem to know where the playing field is, let alone how to level it. That’s why the most powerful opponent to Bannon’s agenda is now Liz Cheney, even as she has just lost her House seat primary to a Trumpite. “Winning” now means something different for Cheney. She doesn’t have a hope in hell of winning the Republican ticket against Trump — but that doesn’t appear to be her mission. Rather, Liz Cheney is now a kamikaze pilot. She is uniquely positioned to immobilize Trump with attacks that will allow others, like Ron DeSantis, to make advances without having to undermine the still-popular ex-president.
And if it doesn’t stop Trump from winning the Republican ticket, it could still impact the general election by deeply dividing Republicans and depressing their vote. A vicious Cheney campaign could disgust enough Republicans into just staying home on election day. It’s not a foolproof strategy. It’s possible she’d motivate Trump voters, or draw away Democratic voters who liked her style and energy. Democrats are clearly uneasy at the prospect. But something that no one can deny: Cheney gets it. She’s seized with it. And she’s doing her best to stop the Bannon agenda.
For years, Steve Bannon has referred to himself as a “honey badger” in reference to the viral meme “honey badger don’t give a shit.” Honey badgers are a ferocious, solitary species that are known to savagely and fearlessly attack any other predator they can’t escape. In Liz Cheney, it’s possible Bannon has found another honey badger. If there is one thing he may not be prepared for, it’s going to war against a version of himself. Time will tell. In the meantime, he’s going to continue with his plan. And remember. He’s telling all of us what it is, openly and in plain sight. He’s already moving to control the narrative. Cheney is listening. Is anyone else?
Melanie Paradis is a veteran Conservative campaigner and the president of Texture Communications.
Correction: This has been updated to note that Liz Cheney lost her primary for a seat in the House of Representatives, not the Senate.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: email@example.com