BLOOMBERG POLITICS: It’s nearing midnight as Steve Bannon pushes past the bluegrass band in his living room and through a crowd of Republican congressmen, political operatives, and a few stray Duck Dynasty cast members. He’s trying to make his way back to the SiriusXM Patriot radio show, broadcasting live from a cramped corner of the 14-room townhouse he occupies a stone’s throw from the Supreme Court. It’s late February, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is in full swing, and Bannon, as usual, is the whirlwind at the center of the action.
Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the crusading right-wing populist website that’s a lineal descendant of the Drudge Report (its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, spent years apprenticing with Matt Drudge) and a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained. He’d spent the day at CPAC among the conservative faithful, zipping back and forth between his SiriusXM booth and an unlikely pair of guests he was squiring around: Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s right-wing UKIP party, and Phil Robertson, the bandanna’d, ayatollah-bearded Duck Dynasty patriarch who was accepting a free-speech award. CPAC is a beauty contest for Republican presidential hopefuls. But Robertson, a novelty adornment invited after A&E suspended him for denouncing gays, delivered a wild rant about “beatniks” and sexually transmitted diseases that upstaged them all, to Bannon’s evident delight. “If there’s an explosion or a fire somewhere,” says Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, “Steve’s probably nearby with some matches.” Afterward, everyone piled into party buses and headed for the townhouse.
“Honey badger don’t give a s—” is the Breitbart motto
Bannon, an ex-Goldman Sachs banker, is the sort of character who would stand out anywhere, but especially in the drab environs of Washington. A mile-a-minute talker who thrums with energy, his sentences speed off ahead of him and spin out into great pileups of nouns, verbs, and grins. With his swept-back blond hair and partiality to cargo shorts and flip-flops, he looks like Jeff Spicoli after a few decades of hard living, and he employs “dude” just as readily.
Ordinarily, Bannon’s townhouse is crypt-quiet and feels like a museum, as it’s faithfully decorated down to its embroidered silk curtains and painted murals in authentic Lincoln-era detail. When I first stopped by in January, about the only sign that I hadn’t teleported back to the 1860s was a picture on the mantle of a smiling woman on a throne with a machine gun in her lap (it was Bannon’s daughter Maureen, a West Point grad and lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division; the throne belonged to Saddam Hussein—or once did). Until Bannon showed up, the only sounds I heard were faint noises from the basement, which might have been the young women he calls the Valkyries, after the war goddesses of Norse mythology who decided soldiers’ fates in battle. More on them later.
On this February night, however, the party is roaring. Along with his CPAC triumph, a secret project he’d conceived was nearing fruition: His lawyers were almost finished vetting a book about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s murky financial dealings that he’s certain will upend the presidential race. “Dude, it’s going to be epic,” he tells me. I sip my “moonshine”—his wink at the Dynasty guests—and wonder, as people often do, whether Bannon is nuts. On my way out, the doorman hands me a gift: a silver hip flask with “Breitbart” printed above an image of a honey badger, the insouciant African predator of YouTube fame whose catchphrase, “Honey badger don’t give a s—,” is the Breitbart motto. MORE