Breitbart, having once aspired to edgelord status, has given up its white hat in order to take a little dip in the waters of the mainstream. “Keep the hat in a safe place, we might be back,” is the implication.
Mr. Bannon has recently set his crosshairs on Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan’s challenger Paul Nehlen. I get it. After the bruising defeat in Alabama, Bannon is trying to to steer the monstrously deformed media arm into the “political sweet spot.” Offensive enough to attract the average Republican, but not offensive enough to push them away.
Back in 2016, Paul Ryan trounced Nehlen in the Republican primary, despite Nehlen’s courting of far-right conservatives. For the record, which can never be erased, Breitbart nurtured Nehlen back then, but is severing political ties now after Nehlen has decided to strengthen the umbilical cord to white supremacy. “Too rich for my blood,” Breitbart says. Okay, we believe you.
So, what is the “political sweet spot”? Probably something along the lines of Fox News’ current Breitbart-ification, and a stagnation of Breitbart’s current style. It’s easy to see the target they’re trying to hit when you consider the goals of both media organizations. Fox has put considerable resources into heightening its digital presence through the use of arguably punchier language. It seemed to take its cues from Breitbart. The latter didn’t waver from its style until it suffered a flattening defeat in the reddest state in the United States. After the defeat, Breitbart started to see the Nehlen-style candidates as cancerous.
Roy Moore might have been sent back to the abyss, but not before leaving an important message for Breitbart. Back superficially mainstream candidates if you wish to survive. The underlying message there is that white nationalism is still very much in vogue, but it has to be presented in a manner that offers plausible deniability of racism to its adherents. The other side of the coin is not to inspire minority voters to vote.
Despite Bannon’s very public rejection of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he’s admitting the senatorial patriarch is right, that his typical choices for candidates won’t have enough mainstream appeal to win the horse race. Bannon came into the political sphere without much knowledge of the process, thinking that being labeled a “firebrand” was enough. But entering into that arena always involved adapting. Bannon tries to do this, in his own hamfisted way.
To me, it’s clear that Bannon’s goal is not just to compete with Fox News, but to supplant it. Fox’s attempts at imitation only give Breitbart what it wants, that coveted seal of legitimacy (I’m imitating you for good reason).
While Breitbart will carry the stain of far-right extremism for the forseeable future, the more it becomes entrenched in the culture, the more it will seem legitimate. CNN feels compelled to respond to jabs from Fox, even though the latter’s reputation for conspiracy theories and general shenaniganry is well-known. The point is when a giant speaks, even its comparatively accurate counterpart must respond. Breitbart aspires to this level of legitimacy, and with time it might achieve it.
Of course, Breitbart might sink under Bannon’s shoddy leadership since he doesn’t seem very competent.
Let’s hope so.