NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—To his detractors, former Donald Trump aide and current Fox News contributor Seb Gorka is a cartoon character, a buffoon thug, an academic fraud, an anti-Muslim zealot, and even an ally to Nazi and fascist sympathizers.
At the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference, Gorka is a star.
Here, he is a fan favorite, heralded as a legend and the id of the Trump movement.
Young Republicans in fedoras and Make America Great Again hats giddily lined up during Gorka’s radio appearances, waiting to introduce themselves and take a selfie with the former White House aid.
“I’m a huge fan,” said Michael Antebi after taking several pictures with the former White House official. “I follow him on Twitter, I usually reply to his tweets. I was actually very upset when he left the administration.”
Gorka was also the main draw at a meet and greet for Pastor Mark Burns’, a former Trump campaign surrogate-turned Republican congressional candidate.
“We both follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — basically every social media outlet,” said UNC Chapel Hill college Republican Cammie McMahan, who said she and her friend Caitlyn McKinney came to Burns’ event to see Gorka.
“He’s personal, and his voice is so great,” she added. “His voice is one of the best political voices I’ve ever heard.”
Fox News reporter Peter Doocy stopped to say hello to Gorka in the conference hall. Gorka huddled briefly with former Fox News anchor Eric Bolling before his midday speech. And as she passed Gorka taking a picture with college kids, Republican National Committee spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany craned her neck to see who was swarmed by fans.
“Not only is Gorka a bonafide rock star; he’s a force of nature in conservative politics,” Andrew Surabian, a former White House official who is close friends with Gorka, told The Daily Beast. “Few people connect with the base the way Seb does.”
Gorka seemed uninterested in interviews with most media outlets as he roamed the halls of the annual conservative conference.
He told Mediaite reporter Caleb Ecarma — whom Gorka challenged to a fight last year— to “fuck off” during a hallway exchange, saying he was “irrelevant.” He rejected an interview with a correspondent from Comedy Central’s The Opposition, and when The Daily Beast approached him for an interview, he looked at the reporter’s name tag and succinctly replied “No.” In an email seeking a sit-down, Gorka wrote back to The Daily Beast, “Not now and not in the future.”
When a reporter from far-right, Obama-birther conspiracy website WorldNetDaily asked him to schedule an interview, he asked the reporter to text him.
On the CPAC main stage on Thursday, during one of his several scheduled appearances this week, Gorka served as the same kind of Trumpian advocate that made him a TV favorite of President Trump’s in the first place.
“China is at war with us already,” Gorka said Thursday afternoon, referencing political and economic “warfare.” He also defended his ex-boss Steve Bannon, ousted White House official and current Trump-world exile, and credited his work as Trump’s chief strategist.
Bannon, for his part, was and is one of the biggest boosters of Gorka, who used to work for him at Breitbart. According to two sources familiar with his former White House role, Gorka started his Trump administration stint as a national-security aide who would brief Bannon on foreign policy and nat-sec issues in the West Wing. But in early 2017, Bannon’s plan was to carve out a larger role for Gorka as one of the public faces of the Trump White House in conservative media, primarily on talk radio and cable news.
Gorka’s TV appearance, where he would frequently belittle hosts and anchors and praise the president, elevated him to cult-hero status in online right-wing communities, and made Trump himself a fan of his cable-news hits.
According to two knowledgeable sources, Bannon became so enamored with Gorka’s performance on TV that, back when they both worked in the White House, the former chief strategist unsuccessfully pushed to hire controversial sheriff David A. Clarke as a West Wing official, primarily to make pugnacious media appearances and serve (as Bannon described it to associates at the time) as a “mini-Seb” in the Trump administration.
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment, and Clarke didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s questions when we tried to ask him in person at CPAC on Thursday.
As for full-sized Seb, he still has a packed schedule for the rest of the conference. On Thursday afternoon, Gorka attended as a special guest of pro-Trump pastor Mark Burns at a small gathering thrown in a Gaylord hotel suite. He spent much of his time there posing for pics, eating Oreos, and fiddling with his smartphone.
And while Gorka was booted from the White House late last year, his former boss still sees him regularly, albeit not on White House grounds.
President Trump—an avid consumer and binge-watcher of Fox News, still frequently watches Gorka, now a Fox contributor, on Hannity and other programs.
From time to time, Gorka will talk to the president through the TV.
“I know he watches certain shows on this channel, so let’s send a very clear message,” Gorka said in an appearance on Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business show late last month. “Mr. President, the American people need to see the whole [Nunes] memo. Please release the unredacted memo.”
A few days later, the president did just that.