Home » Trump is losing a key voice in the months before the election as Steve Bannon heads to prison

Trump is losing a key voice in the months before the election as Steve Bannon heads to prison

“Who says I’m reporting!” he said in a text message when asked about the ramifications to his show while he’s in prison. “WarRoom can not and will not be silenced.”

Just last week, former Fox News host Megyn Kelly urged Steve Bannon to take control of Donald Trump’s campaign.

“We need Steve Bannon,” Kelly said during an episode of her show discussing Trump’s hush money conviction. “Get somebody who knows how to fight dirty.”

This week, a judge told Bannon he’s going to jail.

The development could silence someone in the final months of the presidential election who has served as an inspiration for much of the MAGA movement and been one of Trump’s most aggressive zealots — thanks in large part to his “War Room” show, which he has built to lead the grassroots of the Republican Party to the ballot box in November. 

NBC News spent months tracking Bannon’s show, which streams on Rumble, attending tapings and speaking with dozens of Republicans — from the rank and file at rallies to lawmakers in the halls of Congress — about the influence he wields and how he has built an audience he can leverage to influence party disputes and, he hopes, national elections. 

Bannon, who vowed to appeal the sentence all the way to the Supreme Court, suggested he may not comply with the order to report to prison when asked if he could broadcast from a penitentiary. 

“Who says I’m reporting!” he said in a text message. “WarRoom can not and will not be silenced.”

Bannon said the show would continue: “4 hours a day 5 days a week and two on Saturday.” 

“The WarRoom is a military command center for MAGA — can’t stop and won’t until we achieve final victory,” he added. 

NBC News

But it’s not just his show. MAGA Republicans quickly bemoaned the political implications of losing Bannon as a political operative while he appeals his 2022 conviction for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The sentence was already suspended pending appeal, but in May, a federal appeals court refused to undo the conviction.

Bannon was ordered to report to prison by July 1 and is scheduled to serve a four-month term, which would see him released days before the election. 

“It’s not ideal. He commands a huge audience,” said Charlie Kirk, a Trump ally and right-wing activist who founded a conservative student organization that has built strong ties with the evangelical wing of the party. But he said that Bannon’s absence from the air could “prompt a rallying cry that will turn out to be much larger than even the show,” by driving higher turnout and galvanizing the base.​​

David Bossie, a close ally of Trump’s and co-chair of the Republican National Convention, called it an effort “to silence Steve,” telling NBC News that Bannon “does a lot of crucial and strategic work behind the scenes that will have an impact on the conservative movement and the campaign.” 

Trump painted Bannon as the latest casualty of a Justice Department “so desperate to jail” not just Bannon but all Republicans. In a post on Truth Social, Trump called the outcome “a Total and Complete American Tragedy.” 

The Justice Department has followed routine legal processes, including in a separate case involving Peter Navarro, who was also convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing a Jan. 6 committee subpoena and is serving his sentence at a federal penitentiary in Florida. 

There is little doubt that Trump would feel the loss of Bannon. 

In 2016, Bannon fortified Breitbart News, the arch-conservative publication he helmed, into a relentlessly pro-Trump tool. After the election, he joined Trump as a senior White House aide but fell out of favor and was bounced from the administration after less than a year.  

His show offered him a vehicle to return to Trump’s inner circle. He championed the push to overturn the 2020 election, Trump’s baseless claims of rampant fraud and the fight against the former president’s enemies in Congress and inside the Republican Party.

Bannon is not a household name for most Americans, but among the pundit and governing class — and particularly among die-hard political junkies — he is a behemoth.

Depicted by critics as a venomous propagandist who helped mastermind the populist uprising that swept Trump into office, Democrats say Bannon helped fuel some of the former president’s most incendiary positions and see his show as the vehicle through which he tries to shape conditions to prop up Trump. 

“I know we are not supposed to derive our happiness from others, but Steve Bannon going to jail has done the trick,” Anthony Scaramucci, a former Trump aide turned critic, wrote on X

Bannon has critics on the right who say his influence is overstated. None of that stops Bannon, his supporters and even his antagonists from heaping copious amounts of credit on him for his efforts. 

Bannon credits his audience for forcing a fundraising shortfall inside the party that so diminished Republican National Committee chief Ronna McDaniel’s standing that she had no choice but to leave. “The reason that RNC went into crisis was this audience turned off the tap,” he said. 

Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist and leading anti-Trump voice, points to the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., as proof that Bannon can move the GOP.  

“All of Fox was against Gaetz. Hour by hour. Everybody,” Miller said. “And they overthrew the speaker of the House.” 

This was “because they were able to use the power of the MAGA grassroots to convince enough people, enough of the members to go along with it,” he said. “I mean, that’s pretty crazy.”

‘Starving for some substance’

On most days, the place to find Bannon is in his studio a block from the Supreme Court, in a basement down a narrow set of stairs. 

There, Bannon sits under bright television studio-quality lights as a skeleton staff hastens to assemble a production with appearances from guests that, on one day in late February, included conservative firebrand lawyer Mike Davis, former Trump White House lawyer Mark Paoletta and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

At 10 a.m., the show started with a cold open.

Bannon’s prep is a reading of the day’s headlines, with forensic precision, and a near-constant consumption of cable news. 

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NBC News

“Fundamentally this is an information war,” Bannon said in an interview with NBC News about his show. And “the railhead of this,” he said, “is Trump won 2020.” (Reviews and investigations by state officials, independent groups and federal officials did not find evidence of fraud that affected the outcome of the 2020 election.)

At 11 a.m., actor Kirk Cameron of “Growing Pains” fame stepped into a green room. Cameron’s pivot from Hollywood was a reminder of Bannon’s own foray into the entertainment business before he turned to politics. 

While he’s shown a flare for messaging, Bannon sees the show as a place to talk about policy and ideas. 

It encourages skepticism on topics like artificial intelligence, vaccines, global trade, China and foreign wars. It presses listeners to engage at every level of the political process. And Trump remains the ideological weathervane. 

Bannon can “intellectually decipher and inform the public in a way that gives a historical perspective that we rarely get,” said Ed McMullen, who served as ambassador to Switzerland under Trump. 

“Conservatives are starving for some substance,” said McMullen. “There are a lot of people who are tired of the screaming talk show hosts on TV.”

Kevin Roberts, who leads the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has closely aligned with Trump, called the show “a battleground for ideas.”

The program is not a one-man operation, and Bannon has co-hosts who could keep the lights on while he’s in prison, including many who remain in Trump’s inner circle. 

Waging the fight alongside Bannon over the years are some of Trump’s closest political aides — key players in the former president’s campaign operation, like Jason Miller and Steven Cheung, and legal defenders like Boris Epshteyn, who called the show the “beating heart of the MAGA movement.”

Trump himself is a fan, watching clips from the show and sometimes longer segments, Miller said.

“It’s helped with the connectivity between the first Trump term and what we plan on being the second Trump term,” Miller said.

‘A shadow party to the GOP’

In February, Bannon left his basement studio to lead a hotel conference room of MAGA faithful through a day of seminars as part of his “force multiplier academy.”  

The attendees, most of whom were older, were among the early arrivals at the Conservative Political Action Conference. They watched as Bannon ripped through the most urgent battles he sees facing the Republican Party. 

“He is the general of the army,” said Bryanna Altman, who is organizing hundreds of volunteers in a bid to flip Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, a top target for House Republicans this year. 

Bannon has sought to use his influence to push Trump-supporting Republicans to fill low-level positions in state parties across the country.

“Each precinct is a battleground,” said Mark Rice, who is running in Illinois’s 8th Congressional District. 

Bannon can be found around town touting Trump and trying to convert new supporters. 

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NBC News

In the basement meeting room of a Hilton in downtown Washington last month filled with Black political and business operatives, Bannon railed against what he said was an economic system designed to rip apart the American family. There were references to techno-feudalism — the idea that people are living under a new form of feudalism ruled by rent-seeking tech oligarchs — and calls for a populist revolution to benefit the working and entrepreneurial classes. 

“I’ve been watching this guy over the years, and I’ve always thought he was a whacko conspiracy theorist, but I like the way he sounds,” said Sam Waltz, a Delaware-based business publisher who endorsed Biden in 2020

Raheem Kassam, the editor-in-chief of the right-wing National Pulse and a longtime Bannon ally and associate, said the following that Bannon has built extends beyond a show audience. 

“If you’re the RNC, you should be terrified,” Kassam said. “Because in reality, what he’s building is a parallel party apparatus. It’s a party in waiting — it’s a shadow party to the GOP mainstream.”

Bannon allies also point to the reach he has among members of Congress. 

“There is massive frustration no matter what side of the aisle you are on,” Rep. Eli Crane, a first-term Republican congressman from Arizona who helped oust McCarthy, said of the “disconnect” between what voters see in Washington and what they want. 

“That’s why the show has become such a juggernaut. It’s also why many members listen to this show themselves, myself included,” he said.

‘A fascist playbook’

While lawmakers talk openly of watching, others aren’t convinced the show has much penetration beyond the political class.  

Asked about “War Room’s” reach, Bannon pointed to the show’s nearly 1 million Rumble subscribers and its airing on Real America’s News, a new network that caters to Trump and his supporters. But there is no way to know how many of those subscribers tune in for a given episode. There is no publicly available source of data for how many total viewers are tuning in each day.

At a Trump rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in April, NBC News talked to dozens of attendees, and some of the former president’s supporters strained to recognize him.  

“I’ve heard the name,” said Wyatt Souza, 23, from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin. But of the show, Souza said, “I’ve never seen it.”

Not everyone in Republican politics speaks glowingly of Bannon’s influence — and there are more than a few who may quietly be happy to see him removed from the arena ahead of the election. 

“He planned this, just so you know. He thinks he’s playing four-dimensional chess,” the former Trump aide Scarmucci said on CNN. “He wants to go to jail so that when he comes out of jail he can say this is lawfare.” 

“He wants to have a retribution movement that isn’t grounded in due process, or isn’t grounded in fact,” he added. “That’s right out of a fascist playbook.”

CORRECTION (June 7, 2024, 5:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a Trump aide. He is Boris Epshteyn, not Epsteyhn.

Source : NBC News