CHARLESTON (CN) – Breitbart News CEO and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon got a hero’s welcome in South Carolina Friday night stirring the crowd at the Citadel with a declaration that it’s “time for us to get angry again.”
The event was the annual “Patriot’s Dinner” thrown by the student-run Citadel Republican Society, and while most of the seats to the sold out event were taken up by woolen dress uniform-clad cadets and their guests, all three Republican candidates for governor were in attendance bidding to align themselves with the man who has helped turn the GOP on its ear.
Gov. Henry McMaster reminded the crowd that he had nominated Trump for president at the Republican National Convention, and in a nod to the guest speaker, said, “Nobody did more to elect Donald Trump than Steve Bannon.”
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who hopes to replace McMaster, sought to ally himself with Bannon philosophically, saying, “The majority of the people in this room, in this state and in this country agree that the entrenched, establishment interests of both parties are the major reason why people are fed up with their government.”
But it was the third gubernatorial candidate, Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton, who got the plum assignment of introducing Bannon, calling him “a patriot, a fighter and a conservative who speaks for the rest of us.”
And speak he did, although he did not offer any endorsement in the governor’s race during remarks than ran just over 43 minutes.
Bannon in person is somewhat different from the image one holds of him in the mind. His voice is a little higher than expected, even at times soft-spoken. He appears a bit thinner than he does in photographs. And his preferred personal style of dress can best described as a take on rumpled informality.
“I wore my lucky jacket tonight,” he said of the now-familiar brown Barbour Bedale bomber jacket he wore throughout the campaign and wore again Friday as he bounded to the podium at the Citadel’s Holliday Alumni Center. “I knew you guys would appreciate the touch.”
From that moment on, until he left the stage clutching the society’s Nathan Hale award, he played to room like a well-polished entertainer, skewering Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s critics, while also defending embattled GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
“Until I see additional evidence on Judge Moore, I’m standing with him,” Bannon said, in reference to a last week’s Washington Post story that said Moore had sexual contact with a teenage girl in the 1970s when he was 32.
He was far less supportive of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he tersely said should resign immediately.
And he chided the “mainstream media” for continuing to talk about Russian collusion.
“We couldn’t collude with the RNC and the Trump campaign and the state of Pennsylvania,” he said, inspiring guffaws from his audience.
But for Bannon, the appearance at the Citadel had the feel of his making a victory lap. In fact, it was his third such appearance in three days, his having also made speeches in McComb County, Michigan, and Manchester, New Hampshire last week.
Bannon said both previous stops had profound meaning for him. “McComb County,” he explained, “is home to a lot of Reagan Democrats , and they gave us a great victory last November, where Donald Trump won overwhelmingly with working class voters.
As for New Hampshire, he said “Donald Trump really kicked off his campaign in April 2014, when he appeared in his first cattle call of candidates, standing on stage with people who had planned to run for president for a long time.”
Bannon delighted in recalling the story of Trump’s rise in 2016 primaries and of the stunning victory he pulled off on Nov. 8, 2016.
“At 5 o’clock on the 8th, Jared Kushner and I were in what we called the “crack den,” which was this unheated, beat up room where we had this data center,” Bannon said. “Not paint on the wall. And we go the first exit polls … from the opposition party. The exit polls had us even in Iowa, even in Ohio, and getting blown out in every other state.
“Jared had the good sense to call Matt Drudge, and Matt said, ‘Don’t worry. They’re wrong.’ At 9:15 that night, the Detroit Free Press called the state of Michigan for Hillary Clinton. Our analysis and data center were very rudimentary, as much of the Trump campaign was … but we were feeling very good about Michigan.
“At 10:36 the Associated Press called Ohio for Donald J. Trump. At 10:50, the Associated Press called Florida for Donald J. Trump. At 11:11 AP called the great state of North Carolina for Donald J. Trump. At 12:02 a.m., in the morning of the Nov. 9, the Associated Press called Iowa for Donald J. Trump … and at 12:15 a.m. … 13 minutes later … the Detroit Free Press reversed their call.
“It was at that moment that we knew Donald Trump was going to be president of the United States,” Bannon said to cheers and applause.
“Why did the opposition party get it wrong?” he said, using one of his favorite put-downs for the mainstream media. “They hadn’t thought of communities all over this country were working class people, the backbone of this country, were coming out in ways they hadn’t since Ronald Reagan ran for office, to vote for a Republican candidate,” Bannon said.
Though most of his anecdotes were of the political “back room” variety, giving his audience of taste of the behind-the-scenes of politics and power, Bannon also took a jab at Clinton and her recent campaign memoir, “What Happened.”
“Here’s what a phony she is. She just wrote another 900-page book. Right? Didn’t she just write another 900-page book?” he said.
“By the way, this is a way to compensate her. Why don’t big publishing companies, big media companies, just write her a big check and say, ‘Don’t write any more books,’ just give her another $10 million,” he said.
Bannon used the title of Clinton’s memoir a to mock the former secretary of State, pointing to Trump winning 304 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 227.
“The thing was — ‘What Happened’? Ma’am, with all due respect, and I really mean this, what happened? You got your ass kicked,” he joked, to cheers from the crowd.
Bannon, who left the White House in August, added that he would likely take a beating in the media for the remarks.
“Okay, Okay. I know I’m going to get lit up on CNN in a moment,” he said. “I was just kidding, just some humor.”
Turning more serious, he said, “The important question is, so how did we do it and what does it mean? When I came in, Trump was down. He had historically low polling numbers with Republicans, and the reason why was a lot of Republicans didn’t believe he was Republican.
“So how did we do this? In 85 days. It’s real simple. It’s called unity. It’s called a coalition. The first thing I told the president when I took the job with the campaign is, ‘Forget the polls. They’re irrelevant. Totally irreverent. The only numbers that are relevant are right track/wrong track.'”
Bannon acknowledged the theory was not his own, but one he picked up from his close friend, the political analyst Patrick Caddell.
Caddell, a Democrat and former Carter Administration advisor, now lives in Charleston and was in attendance, sitting just a few feet away from where Bannon was speaking.
Bannon continued: “Two-thirds of the country thought we were on the wrong track and 75 percent of Americans thought the country was in decline … I said, ‘That’s the whole campaign right there. We are just going focus, focus, focus on [Clinton]. She is the tribune for a corrupt and incompetent elite … and you are the agent of change. All we have to do is give people permission to vote for you as an agent of change and we’re going to run the table on her.”
He said Trump responded by asking how sure Bannon was he could win. “I told him, 100 percent.”
“Then one day, after brother Manafort and some other people left the campaign … a group of beauties … the first call I made was to Reince Priebus and the RNC,” Bannon said. “I said, ‘Reince, I don’t know you very well except why I read on the pages of Breitbart where we light you up every day, but you’ve got to get on the train and get up here. I need opposition research, I need rapid response … we’ve got to get together. We’ve got to go.
“That was the start of the coalition,” he said. “I’m a populists and I’m an economic nationalist and I’m proud of it, alright, and we were going in with Libertarians, and limited government conservatives and establishment folks. We had the right-to-life people out there, all the Tea Party groups, the Catholic groups, the values voters We disagreed on a lot, and sometimes we disagreed on very important things, but on the fundamentals there was no question. And my message to the end was ‘We have to continue to remember that.’
“We also had an empowered grassroots organization to go door-to-door, because in the digital age, it’s not the commercials that count, it’s someone ringing a door bell, with passion and understanding of who you are as a candidate, and making your case for you,” Bannon continued. “At Goldman Sachs they tell you, ‘Don’t invent anything; just perfect what’s out there. You know what we were perfecting?
“It was what David Axelrod and Barack Obama did in 2008 That was a very smart campaign. He ran as a populist, he ran as someone with no experience and convinced the voter that was a benefit and he empowered the grassroots through high technology.
“That’s what won the Trump campaign in 2016. And it was that coalition that one the single greatest come-from-behind victory in political history,” he said.
Bannon said it was as if the “hand of divine providence” had played a hand in the election.
At that point, a woman burst into the room and shouted “it wasn’t the divine.”
The crowd booed as she was tackled by police.
“You’ve got the right to free speech,” Bannon said. “Outside.”
Both before and during Bannon’s remarks, scores of protests chanted, yelled and waved signs expressing their displeasure at his invitation to speak. One woman was arrested.
Despite the unrest swirling outside, cadet Cameron Brown, president of the Citadel Republican Society, said the organization had no regrets about inviting such a polarizing figure to the campus.
“We believe he’s a very interesting and unique speaker although there are plenty of people who do not completely agree with Mr. Bannon’s actions or what he says, we do not believe that it makes him a racist, an anti-Semite or anything else people decide to place upon the man,” Brown said.
He added: “It’s an incredible thing to have Mr. Bannon speak, to kind of give his perspective, to listen to him and truly give our cadets and our sponsors to learn where he’s coming from and how he was so integral in the success of Donald J. Trump in this past election.”
But last election was only part of what Bannon wanted to talk about.
“Here’s one of the problems,” he said. “After we won with a coalition, we got to Washington D.C., and we have not learned to govern as a coalition.”
But Bannon didn’t place the blame for that on the White House, rather he said, the responsibility for the Trump administration’s failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, pass the tax cut in a timely fashion, roll out a meaningful infrastructure plan or build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico falls squarely on the Republican establishment and their donors.
“People say we aren’t doing the things we committed to do. And I say, you’re right and it’s because of the vested interests and the donor class and the consultants, all of that mess. And if we continue to think this way and continue down this path, the country will be sorrier for it,” he said.
“This is about winning. This is about victory. [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is all about being a big shot, big talk … to which I say, ‘Hey, Mitch, no offense dude, but the senators from Wisconsin, Missouri and North Carolina were all brought across the finish line by Donald J. Trump … you would not have your job to pontificate from and attack us day after day if it wasn’t for Donald J. Trump and the deplorables.
“Now, 2018 is rolling up on us and I would love to tell you we can wave a magic wand and it ‘s all going to be better. But right now, we’ve got a critical question we need to address: Is the 2016 election going to stand or not going to stand?” Bannon asked.
“The people that will determine the answer are the people in this room. When I left the White House I said, the Republican establishment is trying to nullify this election,” he continued as a sizeable portion of his audience began to nod in agreement or mutter their shared discontent.
“They have three committees on Capitol Hill — the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee with open mandates, looking at everything,” Bannon said.
“I have no problem, trust me, with people taking a legitimate look at whether Russia affected the election. And the answer is no, you guys [the Democrats] had a terrible candidate and she lost the election. It’s very simple. In fact, I’ve got an idea. Run her again? C’mon, break the glass ceiling Hillary. We would love to take her on again,” he said.
“[But] we have to stop this nullification process. I’m not saying fire [Special Prosecutor] Bob Mueller. I was the guy who was saying don’t fire [former FBI Director] Comey. Bob Mueller should look at any collusion and look at it thoroughly, but let’s put timeframe on it . And shut these other committees down or have them give their report.
“The last time I looked, didn’t the Republicans control the House and the Senate. If Hillary Clinton had won, would Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have three committees actively investigating her? No, and know why? They’re serious people,” Bannon said.
“That’s one of the many bones I have to pick with Mitch McConnell. You set a time limit, tell them what time they’ve got, how much money, and then shut it down. Every day you don’t, you’re telling the American people what they really think of the Trump White House.”
“After we won with a coalition, we got to Washington D.C., and we have not learned to govern as a coalition. And for that I blame the Republican establishment and the donors, most of whom never supported us,” he said.
Despite the alleged obstruction of the president’s agenda, Bannon said Trump “has had a great run and a tough run.”
“But we have to have his back,” he said. “The tough stuff hasn’t even started. This tax bill is like the biggest lift the House and Senate have every undertaken, to cut our taxes. Someone has got to be focused [to get this done].
“Mitch McConnell said the other day, ‘We’re working six days a week and we’re going to work through Thanksgiving to pass the tax cut.”‘ Note to self, it all started when we started getting in Mitch’s grill. That’s the only thing they understand [in Washington]. The only thing they understand is the hammer,” Bannon said.
Late in his remarks, Bannon brought up a cornerstone of world view, the 1997 book, “The Fourth Turning,” by the amateur historians, William Strauss and Neil Howe. It makes the case that world events unfold in predictable cycles of roughly 80 years each that can be divided into four chapters, or turnings: growth, maturation, entropy and destruction.
“I’m a great believer in the cycles of history,” Bannon said. “We’ve had the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II … and we’re in the great fourth turning right now,” he said. “And when we come through this great fourth turning, were going to be one thing or another. We’re either going to be the country that was bequeathed us or we’re going to be something radically different.
“If you want to see how radically different we’re going to be … go up to New York City. Look at what they are throwing on Columbus. Look at what they are throwing at Teddy Roosevelt,” he said, referring to the defacing of statues of the explorer and the former president in late October. “That’s what you are going to have and worse.
“I don’t mind those protesters out there,” he continued, acknowledging the protesters outside the hall. ” They have every right to do it.”
He then segued into his only comment on the election last Tuesday in which Democrats won sweeping victory, including the governorships of both Virginia and New Jersey.
“In Virginia they out-worked us,” he said of the outcome in his own state. “So more power to them. They were better organized, better focused and they were angry. It’s time for us to get angry again. November 8th is just one day. We have to work every day on this.”
Speaking with reporters later, Patrick Caddell said the presence of the gubernatorial candidates and the protesters both attest to the fact Bannon continues to be at the red-hot center of the roiling political scene.
“People are protesting and now all the governor candidates are coming I think they’re all terrified, they all wish for his blessing,” Caddell said. “What does that tell you?”
Prior to his appearance at the Citadel, Bannon met privately with black business leaders in Charleston, a meeting that was closed to all member of the press except a reporter from the Associated Press.
“Minority entrepreneurs are the biggest customers of community banks,” Bannon said during the meeting, which was described as a round-table discussion. “And you know why they didn’t get recapitalized? Because nobody cares. When it comes time to make the deals, you’re not in the room.”
The event sponsored by the South Carolina African-American Chamber of Commerce was closed to media except for The Associated Press.
Bannon reportedly got a warm welcome from the group, getting a resounding “Amen!” from members when he explained that his concept of “economic nationalism” has nothing to do with ethnicity or race but rather for policies that advance opportunities for its citizens.
For the black community, Bannon said, that means strengthening the community banks on which he said many minority-owned businesses rely. Those institutions, he said, didn’t get the same bailout opportunities as bigger banks did following the economic downturn several years ago.
“When it comes time to make the deals, you’re not in the room,” he said, adding that big banks “got a piece of the action.”
“Isn’t it time for your piece?” he asked.