NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—At the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference, Stephen K. Bannon took the stage as a victorious revolutionary. He was greeted by an adoring audience, sprinkled with #MAGA hats, as a hero who helped reconquer the White House and completely humiliate the left. “I want to thank you for finally inviting me to CPAC,” Bannon said on-stage.
Oh, and his sidekick and alleged pal Reince was there, too.
On Thursday afternoon, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp hosted a conversation on the mainstage of CPAC with Steve Bannon, Trump’s White House chief strategist, and Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff. The two men shook hands and patted each other’s shoulders center-stage to (once again!) affirm that they were practically the best of friends, and were definitely, absolutely, 100-percent not backbiting and leaking on each other.
“We share an office suite together,” Priebus told the crowd, after pushing back against all the media speculation and reporting that the pair is at odds in President Trump’s inner circle.
The rest of the CPAC chat focused on how great, and supposedly chaos-free, a job Donald Trump and his administration has been doing in its first month in power. The duo, in particular Trump’s chief strategist, indulged in what is also Trump’s preferred hobby: bashing “The Media.”
Between the two, Bannon received the loudest and warmest applause and woops.
“Is that the opposition party?” Bannon asked somewhat jokingly, smirking at the journalists gathered in the media center at the back of the ballroom.
“[We] saw them all crying and weeping that [election] night,” Bannon said, to enthusiastic applause. “And the reason was President Trump.”
Bannon continued his casual victory lap, while continuing to knock the “corporatist, globalist media” that along with the Democratic Party stood in opposition to Trump’s (and his) vision of “nationalism.”
“[Trump] is maniacally focused” on keeping his campaign promises, Bannon alleged, praising the president’s “immediate withdrawal from TPP” as one of the “pivotal moments” in modern U.S. history. “All of these promises are going to be implemented,” he added.
Trump, himself, will be at CPAC on Friday morning to state his own case and to sing his own praises—to discuss, as Bannon described it, the “new political order being formed.”
Bannon, who now sits on the National Security Council and serves as one of the most powerful people in the Trump administration, has come a long way at CPAC.
In years past, the former Breitbart honcho and Hollywood filmmaker hosted his “Uninvited” event as CPAC counterprogramming, which included right-wing voices and activists who hadn’t made the official cut for the high-profile conservative conference.
Sadly for Bannon, a lot of CPAC and the ACU wish he were still uninvited.
Shortly before Bannon took to the mainstage, the ACU’s Dan Schneider delivered a speech titled “The Alt-Right Ain’t Right at All.” In it, Schneider condemned the alt-right as a “fascist” and dangerous collective (nevermind that Breitbart’s logo was stamped on banners to his right and left as official sponsors of the event). Not long after he wrapped his speech, alt-right and white-nationalist leader Richard Spencer was thrown out of CPAC after holding court with reporters outside the ballroom for roughly 45 minutes.
Bannon, for his part, has called his former Breitbart website “the platform” for the racist American alt-right, and shares many of the same hardline nationalist attitudes and politics of the movement.
Just last week, CPAC nearly went full alt-right, with a much-publicized invitation extended by Schlapp to Breitbart editor and professional alt-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos for a prominent speaking slot.
Over the weekend, the ACU board and others revolted against the decision, and Yiannopoulos was ultimately disinvited. To many on the ACU board of directors, unfortunately, the damage was already done.
When the board held a meeting on Wednesday at a conference room at the hotel in National Harbor where the four-day conference is held, members grilled Schlapp about the alt-right’s infiltration into more mainstream conservatism.
According to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, multiple board members called out the ACU chairman not only for inviting, then ditching, Yiannopoulos, but for inviting Bannon himself.
Many board members told The Daily Beast that attendees left the meeting continuing to grumble and vent about the “fascist” and “Jew-hating” and “white nationalist” elements that have “infected” the Republican Party, and how the conservative movement had a long way to go to purge them.
To them, Bannon is indeed a prominent representative of that insurgent, racist threat.
“The revolution is here, and it’s bloody, man,” one ACU board member told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “The craziest elements of the [party] have managed to get every single thing they wanted over the past year…This is the shape our movement is in today.”
Bannon, and his partner-in-crime Priebus, say that this is fine. In fact, probably better.
“[Trump is going to be] one of the greatest presidents that will ever serve this country!” Priebus told the cheering crowd. The chief of staff compared his boss to Ronald Reagan, saying both Republican presidents sought lasting “peace through strength.”
Bannon, on the other hand, reminded the audience that despite recent electoral victories, they should all gear up for the coming war.
“If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken,” Bannon warned, again attacking the globalist “media.”
"Every day is going to be a fight,” he added.