Steve Bannon and Donald Trump’s fear of EU and China reveals a new global re-alignment according to ‘The Book of Putin’

LONDON—Steve Bannon plans to go toe-to-toe with George Soros and spark a right-wing revolution in Europe.

Bannon-War-on-China.jpg
Steve Bannon and Donald Trump’s fear of China, and affinity for Russia, reflect a long-sought civilizational re-alignment.

Trump’s former White House chief advisor told The Daily Beast that he is setting up a foundation in Europe called The Movement which he hopes will lead a right-wing populist revolt across the continent starting with the European Parliament elections next spring.

putin trump.jpg
Trump gifted Putin with his reputation for toughness, and that’s something he can’t easily take back. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Mikhail Metzel/TASS

The non-profit will be a central source of polling, advice on messaging, data targeting, and think-tank research for a ragtag band of right-wingers who are surging all over Europe, in many cases without professional political structures or significant budgets.

Bannon’s ambition is for his organization ultimately to rival the impact of Soros’s Open Society, which has given away $32 billion to largely liberal causes since it was established in 1984.

Over the past year, Bannon has held talks with right-wing groups across the continent from Nigel Farage and members of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (recently renamed Rassemblement National) in the West, to Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Polish populists in the East.

He envisions a right-wing “supergroup” within the European Parliament that could attract as many as a third of the lawmakers after next May’s Europe-wide elections. A united populist bloc of that size would have the ability to seriously disrupt parliamentary proceedings, potentially granting Bannon huge power within the populist movement.

After being forced out of the White House following internal wranglings that would later surface in the book Fire and Fury, Bannon is now reveling in the opportunity to plot his new European empire. “I’d rather reign in hell, than serve in heaven,” he said, paraphrasing John Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost.

The Movement’s headquarters are expected to be located in Brussels, Belgium, where they will start hiring staff in coming months. It is expected that there will be fewer than 10 full-time staff ahead of the 2019 elections, with a polling expert, a communications person, an office manager and a researcher among the positions. The plan is to ramp that up to more like 25 people post-2019 if the project has been a success.

Steve Bannon
© Getty Steve Bannon

Bannon plans to spend 50 percent of his time in Europe—mostly in the field rather than the Brussels office—once the midterm elections in the U.S. are over in November.

The operation is also supposed to serve as a link between Europe’s right-wing movements and the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus in the U.S. This week Paul Gosar (R-AZ) was its envoy to Bannon’s operation in London.

Bannon and Raheem Kassam, a former Farage staffer and Breitbart editor, set up shop in a five-star Mayfair hotel for a week while Donald Trump was visiting Europe. Between TV appearances as Trump surrogates, they hosted a raft of Europe’s leading right-wingers at the hotel.

“It was so successful that we’re going to start staffing up,” said Bannon. “Everybody agrees that next May is hugely important, that this is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos. This will be an enormously important moment for Europe.”

Having seen the shock right-wing victory with the Brexit referendum and Matteo Salvini’s electoral success in Italy, which were achieved on relatively tight budgets, Bannon sees the opportunity to boost radically disparate nationalist parties by deploying a well-financed centralized operation intended to blow local opponents out of the water.

Italy's Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini greets supporters as he arrives for the annual meeting of Lega Nord (North League) in Pontida, northeast Milan, on July 1, 2018.
© MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images) Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini greets supporters as he arrives for the annual meeting of Lega Nord (North League) in Pontida, northeast Milan, on July 1, 2018.

Up until now insurgent populist groups across Europe have often suffered from similar problems: lack of expertise and finances. Le Pen’s party was kept afloat by Russian loans back in 2014, when French banks refused to extend lines of credit for the Front National. Le Pen was back in Moscow shaking Putin’s hand before last year’s French elections, which the NSA subsequently revealed had been hacked by the Russians.

The Movement plans to research and write detailed policy proposals that can be used by like-minded parties; commission pan-European or targeted polling; and share expertise in election war room methodology such as message discipline, data-led voter targeting and field operations. Depending on electoral law in individual countries, the foundation may be able to take part in some campaigns directly while bolstering other populist groups indirectly.

“I didn’t get the idea until Marine Le Pen invited me to speak at Lille at the Front National,” recalled Bannon. “I said, ‘What do you want me say?’”

The response came back: “All you have to say is, ‘We’re not alone.’”

Bannon was stunned to discover that the nationalist movements in Europe were not pooling skills and sharing ideas with populist parties in neighboring countries—let alone on a global scale.

Bannon said the Front National recognized that he was “the guy that goes round and understands us as a collective.”

Up on stage he told the crowd: “You fight for your country and they call you racist. But the days when those kind of insults work is over. The establishment media are the dogs of the system. Every day, we become stronger and they become weaker. Let them call you racists, xenophobes or whatever else, wear these like a medal.”

The former Trump campaign manager believes the fuse for the global populist revolt—now led from Washington, D.C. by his former boss—was lit 10 years ago during the financial crisis and President Barack Obama’s bailout of the broken financial sector. With income inequality growing, Bannon first championed Sarah Palin and then Donald Trump as vanquishers of the establishment elite who were capable of turning traditional politics on its head.

His next populist heroes can be found in Europe.

He sees Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, as the perfect foil to help accelerate that dynamic in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on June 28, 2018 in Berlin.
© JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on June 28, 2018 in Berlin.

Noting Trump’s controversial decision to call out Merkel over her gas pipeline deal with Russia last week, Bannon said: “This is the lie of Angela Merkel. She’s a complete and total phony. The elites say Trump is disruptive but she’s sold out control to Russia for cheaper energy prices.”

He describes Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the French president who crushed Le Pen in a runoff election last year but has since flagged in the polls, as vulnerable figureheads of establishment Europe. With Britain voting to quit the E.U., Merkel and Macron’s vision of a united continent will be put to the test at next year’s elections.

Bannon is convinced that the coming years will see a drastic break from decades of European integration. “Right-wing populist nationalism is what will happen. That’s what will govern,” he told The Daily Beast. “You’re going to have individual nation states with their own identities, their own borders.”

The grassroots movements are already in place waiting for someone to maximize their potential. “It will be instantaneous—as soon as we flip the switch,” he said.

The sight of Brexit virtually upending the entire European Union with a campaign spending cap of £7 million ($9 million) was a great inspiration. “When they told me the spending cap was £7 million, I go, ‘You mean £70 million? What the f***?!’ £7 million doesn’t buy anything. It doesn’t buy you Facebook data, it doesn’t buy you ads, it doesn’t do anything.”

“Dude! You just took the fifth largest economy in the world out of the EU for £7 million!”

This week, British officials ruled that the Brexit campaign had not stuck to the legal limit—overspending by more than $600,000. There were also unofficial campaigns which spent additional millions arguing that Britain should leave the E.U.

Nonetheless, Britain’s GDP is around $2.6 billion and leaked government figures estimate that Brexit could wipe 10 percent off that figure, meaning the impact of the democratic decision vastly dwarfs the scale of the investment by the campaign.

“The first thing they teach you at Harvard Business School is operating leverage,” said Bannon. With his expertise, contacts and financial backing, he is convinced that he can have an outsized impact all across Europe.

Bannon went to Italy to observe the campaign earlier this year as populist parties surged in the polls despite their tiny operations. “Look at Five Star and the Northern League,” he said. “They used their own credit cards. They took control of the seventh largest economy in the world—on their credit cards! It’s insane.”

The two anti-establishment parties reached a coalition agreement that made Matteo Salvini deputy prime minister and put him in charge of the interior ministry two months ago. He has since shut Italy’s ports to NGO ships carrying rescued migrants and called for a census of the Roma community that may lead to mass deportations. Last year, he called for a radical crackdown on immigrants. “We need a mass cleansing, street by street, piazza by piazza, neighborhood by neighborhood,” he said.

Bannon sees Salvini as a model for his future Movement partners to follow. “Italy is the beating heart of modern politics,” he said. “If it works there it can work everywhere.”

He admitted that the scale of his right-wing coalition could be limited by the extreme positions of some of The Movement’s potential partners. “Some people may opt out because they think some of the guys may be too immigrant focused,” he conceded.

“We’re not looking to include any ethno-nationalist parties in this although guys like the Sweden Democrats or the True Finns are perfect casting.”

Kent Ekeroth of the Sweden Democrats was one of those who met Bannon in Central London in the last week. The party, which had its roots in the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements of the 1980s, has shot up to almost 20 percent in recent polls after adopting a more conventionally populist, anti-immigration message.

Jérôme Rivière of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (Rassemblement National since June) also made the pilgrimage to London’s Mayfair, as did Mischaël Modrikamen of the People’s Party of Belgium, Nigel Farage of UKIP and Filip Dewinter of Vlaams Belang, a Flemish nationalist party formed in 2004 when its predecessor was found to be in breach of a Belgian law on racism and xenophobia.

Bannon said Farage and Le Pen would take the lead in figuring out the logistics of creating a new European parliamentary grouping that could be home to all of these parties and more.

Gosar, the Republican congressman, also stopped by Bannon’s London hotel. He was in Britain to attend a rally for the street protester and alt-right provocateur Tommy Robinson, who was recently jailed for contempt of court for breaching reporting restrictions on a trial. During his trip, Gosar accused the British government of jailing Robinson as part of a cover up of rapeperpetrated by “disgusting and depraved individuals” from Muslim immigrant communities, which he described as a “scourge.”

Supporters of Tommy Robinson during their protest in Trafalgar Square, London calling for his release from prison.
© PA Supporters of Tommy Robinson during their protest in Trafalgar Square, London calling for his release from prison.

Bannon’s ambition is no less than to take a stranglehold on Europe in the same way that he believes Soros has been able to dominate proceedings in recent decades.

“Soros is brilliant,” he said. “He’s evil but he’s brilliant.”

George Soros in 2013© PA George Soros in 2013

Bannon wants to fulfil that role on the right and he is not ashamed to assert his objectives. “I’m about winning. I’m about power,” he said. “I want to win and then I want to effectuate change.”

He is not afraid of being caricatured in the way that Soros has been vilified by the right. He compared it to the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “Look at Chris Wylie [the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower]. He is saying ‘Bannon made psychological weapons.’ He’s literally made me the most brilliant evil genius. I’m a Bond villain. I kind of dig it.”

Kassam, who worked closely with Bannon at Breitbart and followed him out the door of the populist news site, said The Movement was shaping up as a force that would subsume national politics.

“Forget your Merkels,” said Kassam. “Soros and Bannon are going to be the two biggest players in European politics for years to come.”

Facing condemnation from allies and foes on Capitol Hill about Helsinki Summit, Trump is outnumbered. Even Mike Pence, John Bolton and John Kelly say no

An avalanche of bipartisan criticism awaited the US president upon his return from Helsinki — and though he may like doing things his way, he never likes being alone

US President Donald Trump addresses the Pledge to America's Workers event at the White House in Washington, DC on July 20, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)
US President Donald Trump addresses the Pledge to America’s Workers event at the White House in Washington, DC on July 20, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)
BRIDGEWATER, New Jersey (AP) —

Facing condemnation from allies and foes alike on Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump was outnumbered even in the Oval Office. Top aides gathered to convince the president to issue a rare walk-back of the comments he’d made raising doubts about US intelligence conclusions of Russian election interference as he stood alongside Vladimir Putin.

Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton and chief of staff John Kelly stood united in the West Wing on Tuesday in their contention that the commander in chief had some cleanup to do. They brought with them words of alarm from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as from a host of congressional leaders and supporters of the president for whom Trump’s public praise of Putin proved to be a bridge too far.

Even for Trump, a leader who has increasingly come to cast off the constraints and guidance of aides, the him-against-the-world position proved untenable. Trump may like doing things his way, eschewing advice and precedent like no president before, but he never likes being alone.

Walking off stage with Putin following their joint press conference in Helsinki, Trump was riding high after his second summit with an adversarial leader in as many months. The highly choreographed affairs had been sought out by the US leader as a way to boost his credibility abroad and his favorability at home, and he believed the latest one had accomplished the task.

But as Air Force One took off into Finland’s endless sunlight on Monday night, Trump’s mood darkened.

He told confidants in the days that followed that he was pleased with how his summit with Putin went, believing he had taken the measure of the man and opened the door to deals down the road on a number of thorny issues.

But that was not how it was being portrayed back home.

On the long flight back to Washington, the president began dialing around to allies and aides and started to stew about negative media coverage, even from usually friendly Fox News, according to five outside allies and Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

The reviews he received were muted — Trump rarely takes kindly to direct confrontation — but it was a taste of what awaited him on his return in Washington, where stalwart allies like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were speaking out.

Trump waited 27 hours, sent five tweets and sat for two television interviews after his initial comments in Helsinki before claiming he’d used a confusing “double negative” and meant “would” instead of “wouldn’t” in a key sentence at his press conference about who was responsible for election meddling.By the time he arrived home, the parade of critical statements had become a stampede, leaving Trump the most isolated he’d been in the White House since last year’s controversy over white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville. Some in the president’s circle saw parallels in the response to that incident, when the president walked back his August comments critical of “both sides” for protests in the Virginia city, only to later revert to his initial position — that both white supremacists and their detractors shared blame for the violence.

“The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia,” the president said Tuesday before a meeting with Republican members of Congress.

The next day brought a fresh challenge. Trump appeared to answer “no” to a reporter’s question asking whether Russia was still targeting the US. Hours later, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emerged to say Trump had merely tried to put a stop to the questioning by saying “no,” although he continued discussing Russia after that.

And Sanders created a fresh headache for the administration when she said the White House was still reviewing a proposal from Putin to allow access by Russian law enforcement officials to Americans whom the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes in return for US access to interrogations of Russian agents indicted for their alleged roles in interfering in the 2016 election. The State Department, by contrast, rejected the proposal — which Trump days earlier had called an “incredible offer — as “absurd.”

Many in the White House did not immediately see fault in Sanders’ comments that the West Wing was merely considering the Kremlin offer, but it provided fresh tinder for the bipartisan firestorm.

As each White House effort to clean up the situation failed to stem the growing bipartisan backlash, Trump’s mood worsened, according to confidants. He groused about his staff for not better managing the fallout. He was angry at the two American reporters, including one from The Associated Press, who asked questions at the Helsinki news conference. And he seethed at the lack of support he believed he received from congressional Republicans.

Also a target of the president’s ire was Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who issued a rare statement rebutting the president’s Monday comments. But it was Coats’ televised interview Thursday at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, that set off the president anew, as the intelligence director questioned the wisdom of the Putin meeting and said he had hoped Trump wouldn’t meet alone with the Russian leader.

It all left White House staffers in a fresh state of resignation about their jobs.

“I saw the screaming headline on cable TV that there is malaise in the West Wing and I look forward to meeting her,” quipped presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway. “I don’t see that.”