White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon made a rare public appearance on Thursday, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, DC, where he described what he sees as a “new political order” forming in the US. Its unifying principle, he said, is the idea that the economy should be bent and shaped to serve the nation and its “reason for being.”
Bannon was making a joint appearance with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that was moderated by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. During the conversation, Bannon described what he calls “economic nationalism” motivating President Donald Trump’s supporters.
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Bannon’s said the new political order brings together populists, limited government conservatives, libertarians, and economic nationalists.
“The center core of what we believe is that we’re a nation with an economy. Not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being,” he said. “I think that’s what unites us and I think that’s what’s going to unite this movement going forward.”
Many of Trump’s early actions in office, such as strong-arming US companies into keeping jobs in domestic factories rather than outsourcing them, and considering punitive tariffs on those who don’t concede are of a piece with Bannon’s idea that the economy should serve the nation, not exist as a separate entity with its own interests.
The movement, he predicted, is going to be resisted daily by the mainstream media, which he referred to repeatedly as “the opposition party.”
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“It’s going to get worse every day,” he said. “Here’s why...They are corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed...to the economic, nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has.”
He continued, playing to the audience of conservative activists and college students. “Here’s why it’s going to get worse because he is going to continue to press his agenda. As economic conditions get better as more jobs get better, they are going to continue to fight. If you think they are going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken.”
Bannon said that in the days ahead, the White House will press forward on three main “lines of work” including “national security and sovereignty,” “economic nationalism” and “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
He said that “one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history” was Trump’s decision to immediately withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement when he took office. The administration is now, he said, starting to think through a whole round of “amazing and innovative” bilateral trade relationships.
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He added, “The rule of law is going to exist when you talk about sovereignty and you talk about immigration.”
He also touched on why the Trump administration has chosen cabinet secretaries who, in some cases, seem diametrically opposed to the missions of their Departments.
“If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is deconstruction,” Bannon said. He accused the “progressive left” of using the regulatory state to implement rules and regulations that couldn’t pass Congress, and said, “That’s all going to be deconstructed.”
Bannon went on at some length with complaints about the media’s coverage of Trump.
“President Trump while he was campaigning -- and this is another thing the mainstream media or opposition party never caught -- if you want to see the Trump agenda it’s all in the speeches. I happen to believe and many others do that he’s probably the greatest public speaker in those large public arenas since William Jennings Bryan.”
Now in the White House, he said Trump is “maniacally” focused on implementing that agenda.
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“That’s what the mainstream media won’t report,” he continued. “Just like they were dead wrong on the ‘chaos’ of the campaign, just like they were dead wrong on the ‘chaos’ in the transition, they are absolutely dead wrong on what’s going on today.”
The Trump team is “grinding” forward he said, adding, “the mainstream media better understand something all of those promises are going to be implemented.”
“That’s awesome,” said Schlapp.
The appearance was not without its awkward moments. At the very beginning of the conversation, Bannon reminded Schlapp that his ideas have not always been welcome on the CPAC stage. In years past, Breitbart-sponsored panels called “The Uninvited” during CPAC to showcase voices not heard from the main stage.
Bannon’s appearance also followed by a few hours the executive director of the American Conservative Union, Dan Schneider, who denounced the “alt-right” movement.
“They are anti-Semites, they are racists, they are sexists,” he said. “They hate the constitution, they hate free markets, they hate pluralism. They hate and despise everything we believe in. They are not an extension of conservatism.”
As publisher of Breitbart, Bannon once described his website as “a platform for the alt-right.”