Speculation swirls as to whom Donald Trump will appoint to his Cabinet. Will Rudy Giuliani be Secretary of State? Will Jeff Sessions be Secretary of Defense or maybe Attorney General? (The latter job seems ideal for him).
Meanwhile, Trump has made two key appointments that don’t require Senate confirmation. Reince Priebus will be chief of staff and Steve Bannon will be chief strategist and senior counselor.
The Priebus appointment carries irony. It was Priebus who, overreacting to Mitt Romney’s defeat, pushed the Republican Party to adopt a softer stance on illegal immigration. Leading GOP presidential contenders adopted this advice, thus paving the way for Trump, who ignored it with great success.
I’m not a fan of Priebus.
I’m less of a fan of Bannon. His appointment carries intense controversy. He stands accused of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry based on his time as editor-in-chief at Breitbart.
I very much doubt that Bannon is an anti-Semite. The estimable David Goldman (“Spengler”) says he has had long discussions with Bannon. Goldman reports, “I discussed Israel with him on a couple of occasions and he is a gung-ho pro-Zionist conservative.”
Goldman also says he reviewed roughly a thousand articles he found on Breitbart through a Google search. There was, he says, “nothing but pro-Israel, pro-Jewish articles that might well have appeared in Israel Hayom.”
Ben Shapiro worked with Bannon at Breitbart. The two clashed sharply. Shapiro left Breitbart, accusing it of being “Trump Pravada.”
Yet, Shapiro says he has “no evidence that Bannon’s a racist or that he’s an anti-Semite.”
The only evidence I know of that suggests anti-Semitism by Bannon is his ex-wife’s claim during a custody dispute that Bannon didn’t want their daughters to attend a particular private school because it had “too many Jews.” I don’t credit claims made in that context.
Although I don’t see evidence of personal bigotry by Bannon, it seems to me that his publication has pandered to bigots. Here are some headlines that have appeared on Bannon’s Breitbart:
Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew
Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy
Suck it up buttercups: Dangerous Faggot Tour returns to colleges in September
“Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?”
Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet
I understand that the article about Kristol was written by a Jew and that the two articles pertaining to gays were written by the openly gay Milo Yiannopoulos. But headlines like the ones above are offensive nonetheless. They seem, at least in part, like an attempt to attract bigoted readers.
He may be right; I’m not sure anyone has formulated a solid definition of the “alt-right.” But some of the headlines Bannon’s Breitbart has served up in its capacity as a platform for the alt-right suggest otherwise.
Trump is entitled to get his advice on strategy from whomever he wishes. And the appointment of Bannon does not suggest to me that he wants to get it from a bigot. I’d be very surprised if that’s what Trump wants.
But I think Trump’s critics have reason to be concerned that Trump apparently will be relying heavily on someone who has pandered to bigots.
Moreover, as Ben Shapiro points out even while defending Bannon from charges of anti-Semitism, Bannon apparently is a very vindictive guy. According to Shapiro (and I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed by other former Breitbart employees):
What will [Bannon] do with [his] power? He’ll target enemies.
Bannon is one of the most vicious people in politics, which is why I’ve been joking for months that should Trump win, I’d be expecting my IRS audit any moment. That wasn’t completely a joke. He likes to destroy people.
Trump, it seems, wants advice on strategy from one of the most vicious people in politics.
We know how this tends to turn out. In a Republican administration, at least, it tends to turn out badly.