In late June, one of the more surreal moments of any Donald Trump rally happened onstage in South Carolina. And it was all because the president was handed a printout of an article on the conservative website Breitbart.
“Veteran filmmaker David Lynch believes President Donald Trump could be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in American history because of the way he has shaken up the political establishment—and because of what I've done!” Trump declared, drawing from a Breitbart story on the Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet auteur’s views.
The article Trump was reading was actually an aggregation of an interview Lynch had given to The Guardian. And it was so heavily taken out of context that, shortly thereafter, Lynch felt compelled to release a statement telling the president: “You are causing suffering and division.”
That was no matter to Trump, who according to one White House official was “delighted” by the Breitbart piece and didn’t hesitate to use it politically.
It was a moment almost worthy of a dream-like sequence in a Lynch classic: the pop culture-obsessed leader of the free world, headlining a political rally on a hot summer night, enthusiastically reading a Breitbart piece on Lynch talking about him!!! But it also underscored an important, resurgent trend in the president’s media consumption and dissemination habits—one that could have profound political impacts.
After a long period of ignoring the site, Trump now publicly loves Breitbart again.
A West Wing official told The Daily Beast that Trump has recently been demanding print-outs of Breitbart clips, and will sometimes ask where Breitbart “stands” on a given issue of the day.
His Twitter account has reflected his renewed focus on, and affinity for, the site. On Tuesday afternoon, the president tweeted, “Small Business Optimism Soars to Highest Level Ever,” tagging “@BreitbartNews,” and linking to a story by the site’s economics editor John Carney.
It marked the third time this month that Trump had tweeted a Breitbart story, another time posting, “No Deal! Trade Talks with Canada Conclude for the Week with No Agreement | Breitbart,” and another time writing, “Jim Mattis Calls Woodward Book ‘Fiction’: ‘Product of Someone’s Rich Imagination.’” Late last month, the president promoted the Breitbart piece “Watch: Kanye West Says Trump Wants to Be the ‘Greatest President’ for Black Americans.” And in early April, he tweeted the website’s write-up of a Rasmussen poll.
It is unclear why, exactly, Trump has chosen this summer to start his latest Breitbart kick. One close friend of the president said that when he feels under siege—whether it be the Russia probe, the conviction and guilty pleas of one-time associates, the possible coming Democratic takeover of the House, Bob Woodward’s book, or the anonymous New York Times op-ed—Trump will often retreat into absorbing and amplifying the most loyal and coddling of his allies and media voices.
Breitbart, always eager to declare war in the name of Trumpism, certainly qualifies. Reached by The Daily Beast for comment, the conservative media outlet sent along a brief statement, simply reading: “We are honored to have the President of the United States read our work and think it is important enough to share through his social media.”
The alliance of Trump and Breitbart may seem wholly natural—the former being the ideal political avatar for the latter’s nationalistic worldview and antagonism toward immigrants.
But, in reality, the two sides have been out of sync since Trump entered the White House. Early in the Trump presidency, there was a sharp, extended drop-off in the president’s public promotion of the website—some of which occurred during a period when senior officials such as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and former Staff Secretary Rob Porter actively tried to impose new restrictions on the paper flow to Trump’s desk.
That paper control included screening out Breitbart articles and certain, sometimes fringe, right-wing content. According to a New York Times report in September of last year, Kelly had “thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were.”
A search of the tweets Trump has posted since his inauguration early last year pulls up the aforementioned tweets, and just three other Breitbart posts: just one in January, and two in 2017 (late June, and late March). By contrast, Trump tweeted Breitbart stories over two dozen times in 2016 alone. On June 23, 2016, he tweeted out Breitbart articles three times in a single day of the presidential campaign.
For Breitbart itself, the Trump era has been a mixed bag. The site, once run by the president’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, has been unapologetically pro-Trump for years. It served as one of his staunchest media allies during the 2016 election, running multiple, phenomenally-friendly interviews with the then Republican presidential contender such as, “Exclusive—Donald Trump Plans To Continue GOP Legacy Of Leading On Women’s, Civil Rights Against Racist, Sexist Democrats.” And the marriage appeared fully consummated with Trump’s hiring of Bannon—first on the campaign, then for a senior role in the administration.
But things soured after election day. The only Oval Office sit-down Breitbart has enjoyed with the president took place roughly a month after he was inaugurated. Breitbart has also seen traffic dips over the past two years and was closely associated with the cycle’s most humiliating election defeat: the loss of Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom Bannon and Breitbart supported—even to the point of pre-spinning allegations that Moore had sexually targeted underage girls.
The Bannon-Trump relationship has been strained as well. After the publication of Michael Wolff’s book Fire & Fury—in which he made scorched-earth comments critical of the Trump family—Bannon was quickly jettisoned from Breitbart’s leadership ranks, and lost the support of Rebekah Mercer, a GOP mega-donor and Bannon’s former partner-in-crime. But that didn’t satisfy everyone inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Breitbart staffers said they felt frozen out by White House officials for several weeks after Bannon’s ouster, given a “time-out,” due to the political and public-relations fallout, two sources familiar tell The Daily Beast.
The time-out seems to ended, given that senior White House officials have appeared as guests on Breitbart radio in recent months. And Bannon, for his part, is in the midst of his attempt to rehabilitate himself in Trumpworld following this year’s exile that Trump personally ordered and imposed. He is currently trying to make himself in a player in the 2018 midterms, under his own mandate of protecting the president, and has been making the media rounds continuing to swear his allegiance to the former boss.
Despite the ups and downs, Breitbart managed to maintain some consistently strong ties to Trump’s inner circle, including with Donald Trump Jr. The president’s eldest son, a friend of Breitbart editor Matt Boyle, frequently tweets about Breitbart’s aggressively MAGA coverage and agitprop. Trump Jr. is also one of the 47 people the president currently follows on Twitter, ensuring that Breitbart will regularly appear in Trump’s feed, at least.
“[Trump] loves it… He’s a fan,” a source close to Trump said, jokingly referring to Trump as “President Breitbart,” given their aligning political sensibilities. “Of course he’s going to read it. Anyone trying to hide Breitbart from him is [on] a fool’s errand.”