Republicans in Congress fear Donald Trump's 'Breitbart'-fueled internet mob
Several of President-elect Donald Trump's priorities run afoul of conservative orthodoxies. In any other year, White House agenda items like Trump's isolationist trade policies, robust infrastructure spending plans and closer diplomatic ties to Russia would lead to a Republican revolt in Congress.
Trump and his top aides, though, have a plan to keep Republicans in Congress — whom they need to enact these policies — in line: a band of conservative internet trolls stoked by Breitbart News.
Breitbart, which was previously run by Steve Bannon, who is now a top aide to Trump in the White House, has been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans for years.
But in the 2016 election, Breitbart's ability to stoke the far right and morph it into a vulgar, hate-spewing internet mob in order to browbeat Republicans into supporting Trump became an even more powerful political weapon. And that's poised to continue with Bannon by Trump's side in the White House.
"We met with probably, on the low boundary, 30 members of Congress," Rick Wilson, an anti-Trump Republican consultant, said to Mic. "And over and over and over again they said things like, 'Well, I hate Trump, he's an asshole, he's a dang liberal, but if I say anything, Breitbart's going to send his people after me and they're going to threaten my staff and threaten me, and I'll have nothing but Sean Hannity kicking the shit out of me.'"
A handful of GOP members of Congress have been targeted by an internet mob, stoked both by Breitbart and Fox News' Sean Hannity, who has been Trump's biggest on-air advocate.
"People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks," South Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Sanford told Politico.
Sanford was the target of the online mob after he penned a piece in the New York Times calling on Trump to release his tax returns.
Others, such as conservative commentator David French, wrote about the hate he received after opposing Trump in the primary.
"I saw images of my daughter's face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her," French wrote in a piece for National Review titled "The Price I've Paid for Opposing Donald Trump."
"I saw her face Photoshopped into images of slaves," French continued. "She was called a 'niglet' and a 'dindu.' The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with 'black bucks.' People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone Photoshopped to look like me, watching."
Wilson said most Republican members of Congress — even those in safe Republican seats — aren't as strong as Sanford or French, making them unwilling to speak out and later endure the graphic and vulgar threats the Breitbart-fueled mob directs their way.
"If you're not a very strong person, the threats that come at you are unbelievably intimidating," said Wilson, who was the target of Trump-backing internet mobs who sent him graphic images of his children with bullet holes in their foreheads and of his young daughter Photoshopped into graphic sexual scenes. "This isn't normal politics anymore. These people think of that as their day-to-day strategy."
Some anti-Trump Republicans such as Evan McMullin, who ran an unsuccessful independent bid for president in 2016, say Republicans have to stand up to Trump and ignore the hate they are sure to receive.
"We will need to push back forcefully against those at Fox, Breitbart and elsewhere who attack those in Congress who stand up to Trump," McMullin tweeted Wednesday.
But Wilson isn't convinced Republicans will actually stand for their principles and vote their conscience if Trump's public approval rating stays where it is.
"As of today, Donald Trump could be discovered to be a full time paid agent of the Russians and you know what the House would do?" Wilson said. "Nothing. They're terrified."