Stephen K. Bannon—the former head of Breitbart News who has been appointed by President-elect Donald Trump as the White House’s incoming chief strategist—has long wanted to blow up the Republican Party, and salt the earth beneath it. Over the years, Bannon has expressed a particular disdain for Paul Ryan, now the Republican House speaker.
On Tuesday morning, Ryan assured the press and American public that he really had no qualms about working with a White House run, in large part, by a man who has made it his mission to destroy the Wisconsin lawmaker.
In other words, Paul Ryan wants everyone to know that This Is Fine. Everything is fine.
“I’m not worried about it, I’m not looking backwards, I’m looking forward,” Ryan quickly told reporters at a Tuesday press conference on Capitol Hill, when asked about Trump’s Bannon pick. Bannon and his alt-right website Breitbart have gone after Ryan repeatedly, not just for his “globalist” policies but also his personal and family life.
“Paul Ryan Says U.S. Must Admit Muslim Migrants, Sends Kids to Private School that Screens Them Out,” screamed one Breitbart headline from earlier this year.
“Desperate Paul Ryan Floods Wisconsin with Misleading Television Ads,” shouted another.
Ryan knew he would be asked about Bannon, and he spent just a handful of words addressing the alt-right, populist-nationalist ringleader. Ryan repeated that President Trump is “going to be judged on his results,” and that Bannon helped Trump achieve an “incredible victory and an incredible campaign.”
Ryan repeatedly stressed that come Inauguration Day, the Trump administration would be working with a perfectly “unified Republican Party.”
The snag is that, if it were up to Bannon, the GOP would not be “unified”—it would be a game of divide and conquer, with Bannon on a warpath. We know this because of Bannon’s own words and deeds.
“We [at Breitbart] don’t really believe there is a functional conservative party in this country,” Bannon said at a National Press Club conference in 2013. “We certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that.”
During the homestretch of the 2016 presidential race, Bannon reportedly rooted on Trump’s antagonism of Republican leaders who had dropped him following the news of Trump’s sexual-assault comments—a scorched-earth strategy that threatened a full-blown GOP civil war. Bannon had previously called Republican Party’s congressional leaders, a bunch of “cunts” in 2014.
“We should just go buck wild,” he wrote in an email to another member of Breitbart.
As for Ryan himself, Bannon has consistently used his far-right website as a weapon against the House speaker, whom the site deems a liberal globalist hell-bent on selling out American workers to foreigners.
On editorial conference calls, the former Breitbart chairman would often tell his editors and writers that, “Paul Ryan is the enemy,” The Hill reported last month, detailing Bannon’s years-long campaign to try to crush Ryan’s reputation and political career.
“Long game is [for Ryan to be] gone by spring,” Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email in December 2015, just weeks after Ryan became Speaker of the House.
“He goes on these amazing rants,” a former Breitbart staffer told The Hill. “He thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.”
Now come January, Bannon can wage his war directly from the Trump White House, serving a president whose own relationship with Ryan has been at best shaky and at times hostile.