Donald Trump’s latest shake-up is bad for his campaign — but worse for us all
On Wednesday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shook up his campaign leadership team yet again — effectively demoting current campaign chairman, and adviser to dictators, Paul Manafort and putting in charge Stephen Bannon, the head of right-wing news site Breitbart.
For months, Manafort has reportedly been trying to rein in the candidate, as have other high-profile Republican figures like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. So too, according to the New York Times, have his three oldest children.
The staffing change more or less puts an end to the already mythical notion Trump is preparing a so-called "pivot" for the general election phase of the campaign. Indeed, in an interview with Wisconsin station WKBT-TV the day prior to the overhaul, Trump said, "Everyone talks about, 'oh, you've got to pivot.' I don't want to pivot. I don't want to change. You have to be you."
In place of that, Trump is offering Bannon. Under Bannon's tenure, the often-brash and offensive Breitbart increasingly became involved with the so-called "alt-right," a loosely organized network of online white supremacists which has indirectly fueled some of Trump's more egregious controversies. Trump's elevation of the Breitbart wing is an ominous sign about the direction of the GOP under its current standard-bearer — a direction that even Trump's loss may not halt.
In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote Breitbart had "undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas — all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the Alt-Right."
Headlines in the past year, the SPLC noted, have included a screed on how "Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture," from anti-immigrant politician Tom Tancredo; an attack on Pope Francis citing the racist novel Camp of the Saints; and a headline on the August 2015 murder of two journalists by a former colleague titled "Race Murder in Virginia: Black Reporter Suspected of Executing White Colleagues – On Live Television!"
The "race murder" post, the SPLC pointed out, was similar to Council of Conservative Citizens propaganda cited in the manifesto of Dylann Storm Roof, the neo-Confederate mass shooter charged with killing nine black members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina two months earlier.
The site's other major contribution to public discourse has been Milo Yiannopoulos, the professional provocateur who recently found himself banned from Twitter for organizing a campaign to send actress Leslie Jones racist memes en masse.
While Breitbart was already more or less operating as a Trump campaign proxy, Bannon's new role is an unmistakable sign Trump plans on betting the last few months of 2016's presidential campaign on the far-right rhetoric many fellow members of his party wished he'd move away from.
It's also another sign Trump simply does not care what more moderate members of his party think, and possibly that he is laying the groundwork to scapegoat those same Republicans for sabotaging his campaign. As the New York Times noted on Wednesday, Trump may even be plotting how he can dominate the political discourse beyond a non-presidential outcome to his campaign with a different kind of pivot — into alt-right media kingpin.
Another prominent conservative media figure to join the Trump team officially this month has been former Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes, who left his prior role amid accusations of sexual harassment and is now acting as the billionaire's debate coach.
Trump cannot salvage his sinking poll numbers without reversing his abysmal approval ratings among minorities and the majority of the population that is not male. This is an impossible task, given his support among black voters nationally and in swing states is with no exaggeration approaching zero and the situation also catastrophic with Latino voters and women.
Looks like he's given up on all that. In its place, Trump is banking on an improbable win predicated entirely on the minority of predominantly white, male voters who find him and Breitbart equally appealing. It's a bad deal for someone genuinely seeking the presidency, but a great deal for the fringe conservatives who have found their mouthpiece in Trump.
Sure, the evil that men do lives after them. But even worse is the prospect that the 70-year-old Trump has no plans to excuse himself from the political arena if Nov. 8 goes badly for him, and the near certainty his shadow will be hanging over U.S. politics a long, long time.
Lest anyone conclude this is a purely Trumpist phenomenon, this is the logical endpoint of decades of Republican Party officials alternately shrugging and cheerleading as their party moved ever-further to the far right. If the Trump-Breitbart alliance is the black hole of conservative politics in 2016, it should be remembered who exactly scoffed at the idea there's no such thing as an event horizon, a point of no return, a great crunch that destroys all.