«We’re seeing a creative destruction»
“The center has collapsed. The Populist Nationalist parties are, now, totally mainstream and legitimized,” says Steve Bannon about the new Europe after the EU elections. “The next phase... is to actually govern.” To do this successfully, Bannon argues that the top priority must be the economy and job growth. “That will give you the opportunity to take care of the migration.”
Steven K. Bannon is sitting in his plush hotel suite in Mayfair, London, giving orders: “Get me two Red Bulls,” he says down to room service. My mission is to glean the political guru’s meditations on the recent European elections that have the establishment scrambling.
“It all started in Zürich,” the former strategist and consigliere to President Donald J. Trump declares with a grin. He is referring to the blockbuster showcase DIE WELTWOCHE hosted, last year. It was Bannon’s first public appearance in Europe after his highly publicized and abrupt departure from the White House. The event sold out, literally, overnight.
Soon after his Zurich debut, Bannon launched “The Movement,” a kind of “Internationale” of European Populist Nationalists to take on the European Parliament in the May elections. The goal: to turn Brussels upside down.
For the past three weeks, Bannon has been touring Europe, from Norway through Germany to France. But the man Bloomberg News once called "the most dangerous political operative in America” has maintained a discreet distance from the local populist parties wary of being perceived as Bannon’s new puppets. Nevertheless, the happy warrior takes pride in the victory of his European comrades. And as ever, the former Navy officer is busily strategizing for the battles ahead.
What is the core conclusion you draw from the European elections?
There is no further integration in Europe.
“No further integration.” What does that mean?
Remember, we had Brexit and we had [US President] Trump in 2016. The Populist National movement had momentum because they had won two massive victories in the United Kingdom and in the United States. In May, two years ago, now, [French President] Emmanuel Macron comes out of nowhere. [Marine] Le Pen doesn't just lose. She's humiliated because she doesn’t understand the economy. She lost 40/60 to Macron.
On that same week, let's go back in time, the special counsel gets appointed on the Trump thing [Robert Mueller’s investigation into the, ultimately, debunked allegation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 US presidential campaign].
Trump's at 35% approval ratings. Nigel Farage, the Brexit-Leader, is out of politics. He's trying to get a commentator job. He’s talking about going to the United States and working for Fox. Le Pen is just beaten. [current Italian Deputy Prime Minister] Matteo Salvini is some guy in a separatists' party in Milan that polls, on a nationwide basis, at under 5%. The Vox party in Spain is 0.0. Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) is in the high single digits. This Nationalist movement is dead because Macron has crushed it
In September 2017, Macron gives a speech on his vision. It's not just a vision of France. It's a vision of Europe: further commercial integration; political integration; budgetary integration; foreign policy integration; the immigration problem in Brussels. And, ultimately, he promotes the EU army.
And, now, two years later, he comes out with his “Renaissance” idea. In the European elections, he goes all in on the “United States of Europe.” Not one of the Globalists in Europe says, "I love it. Come to my country. Get on a stage with me. I want to hold it up. We're partners.”
Macron published his “Renaissance” vision in all 28 EU countries in their local newspapers in the local languages. But it didn't catch fire.
It didn't catch fire.
The Populist Nationalists have gained seats, but they have not won tremendously big. On the other side, we have the Greens performing strongly. How do you see the diverse Populist Nationalists of Europe, who are all different, moving together, now?
You have to put a super group together. But what I would tell the people: “First, don't forget your domestic politics." One very important thing happened. The European parliamentary election (which has always been a sideshow), now, drove a national dialogue. Salvini got 34%. Farage got 32%. These guys could become prime ministers in the fall. Everything, now, is about domestic politics. Remember, the centerpiece in the thesis of this Populist Nationalist movement in Europe is not to exit the European Union. It's to make the European Union more robust by having the Westphalian system to have stronger nation-states.
So, the fight for the cause of Nationalism takes place from within the EU?
What I would tell people is: Don't trade off anything on the domestic agenda that could hurt you to form a super-group. If you form a super group, it's great. That gives you a critical mass. As long as you vote together on certain key issues, you'll be fine.
How is the super group different from “The Movement” — a board of Populist Nationalist parties in Europe that you founded and promoted prominently a year ago?
The super group is, essentially, “The Movement.” Yes, definitely. It is the intellectual construct of “The Movement.”
I followed up on “The Movement” over the past months. I talked to Michaël Modrikamen, your designated leader of that group. I even went to his headquarters in Brussels. There is nothing. “The Movement” is dead.
No. You're 100% wrong. What I did is focus on what people said. Number one, they didn't want to have too much American involvement. Local guys run their own campaigns. Where I focused was to make sure I spent time in France, or in Italy, or the UK, or wherever, just to give my observations. I wasn't an advisor. They didn't need an advisor. I just needed to be there.
What did you do?
I am a friend and a colleague. I would give my observations.
Which is the same as giving advice?
No. What I did is I went to the French media, and I think I helped in framing the discussions in France. I said, “France has a choice between two options.” Macron made the European elections a referendum on himself and his vision of Europe versus the nation-state. Macron and those guys went nuts. They came back and attacked me personally. They said I was getting engaged. And I said, "Hey, all I'm doing is making an observation on what your election is about."
Talking about Le Pen and her Rassemblement National, you mentioned to me, before, that you helped the party with the finances.
Remember, they had this problem. I think it's an outrage. I've said this. I think it's an outrage that my old bank (Société Général that bought my company) cut them off. The Rassemblement National couldn't get another loan. So, they got a loan from a bank somehow associated with Russia.
Critics said they had Russian money. Putin payed.
Well, no. It was legal. Here's the point that outrages me: This [Rassemblement National] is, now, a party that has the support of at least 25% to 30% of the French people on a consistent basis and, particularly, a big majority of working class people. And they can't get any European financial institution to lend them money, because they're blocked by the establishment. To me, that's an outrage. One observation I made to them is that the future of financing in politics is not big donors. It is not banks or anything like that.
What you've seen in the United States from Trump — but perfected by the Left to the point that it's now a minimum requirement to be on the stage at the Democratic primary — is a number of small donors. I think that one of the financing revolutions you're going to see in Europe is small donors giving money to political campaigns.
What Le Pen did, which I think was quite amazing, is that she, basically, borrowed the money from her base. She, basically, went to the small guys.
Is that where you helped her?
They had the idea. I just walked them through, in detail, how the rest of the world is going through that model. That’s the model the Progressive Left is doing and that Trump showed. Trump got almost no money from major donors. He was 100% financed by the little guys. Essentially, it is crowdfunding elections. Tom Steyer [a liberal, American, billionaire hedge fund manager, philanthropist, Trump impeachment activist, and Democratic fundraiser] has done this. The Left is doing it with [Democratic Socialist Congresswoman] Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. My recommendation was, "You've got to go there." Macron did it. And, I think, Front National raised $5 million Euro, which is an extraordinary number, which covered their expenses for this.
Through a system that you advised them to do?
No, no. They had already set it up. I said, "Forget everything else, and just focus on that. Just focus on going to your donors, your small guys, and get the money in small increments."
Back to the super group of European Populist Nationalists. Who should lead that? They need a leader.
Oh, no, no. I think the natural leaders are Salvini and Le Pen. Or Nigel [Farage], if he comes in.
If Brexit happens, Farage’s group will be out of the European Parliament. They won’t be part of the super group.
My personal and professional belief is, right now, as I assess the situation in London, that the Tories will stumble through a leadership change.
Who will take leadership of the party?
Right now, I don't know.
Boris Johnson seems to lead. The bookmakers are with Boris.
I think Boris would be a very natural leader to this because of his ability to articulate what they want to try to accomplish with Brexit. He is somebody that I've spent a lot of time with and whom I think very highly of. At the end of the day, when the Tories get down to the two-man race, my belief, right now (I could be wrong), but as I see it, he's not going to make the two-man cut-off. I think the final race will be between Dominic Raab and Michael Gove. I believe the Tories, with their mentality, will pick Gove. I think on October 31st of this year, when the clock strikes midnight, they will not be out. They will never pull the trigger. The Tory party, as controlled by the civil servants, will never ever be able to pull the trigger on it. There's only one way you're going to leave the European Union — only one way.
The hard way.
Hard out, no deal. But I believe that the Tories will not pull the trigger on a hard out, no deal. And the day after October 31st, Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn will call a vote of “no confidence” in this government. And, then, all hell breaks loose.
The crazy thing is Europe goes on. I think the key thing in Europe is that, now, you have these Populist Nationalist parties. Important things happened inside the microcosm of that past European election. The Populist Nationalist parties are, now, totally mainstream and legitimized. Look at the two historic parties: the Republican Party of France, and the Tories in the UK. They completely imploded. One only got 8% of the vote. The other got 11% of the vote. These are historic institutions.
My point is the center didn't hold. You had two things happen. Number one, Salvini, [Hungarian Prime Minister] Orban,Le Pen, Farage — they're all in the heart of the discussion. They are now getting huge amounts of votes from people. Number two, the center didn't hold. The center has collapsed. We're seeing creative destruction.
What is creative about this destruction?
The center doesn't stand for anything, either center-left or center-right. People understand that. These are times when people are engaged in different visions of the world. That's fine. That's what democracy is about. I don't hold it against folks that they're on the left, that they hold these views. I disagree with them, and I want to beat them at the ballot box. I don't want them in power. But I don't mind if they have those views. I argue. I mobilize.
Now, a third thing is the rise of the Greens. The Greens are the vanguard of the Globalist movement. It's just a different version of globalization packaged in a different way. But it's all the energy. You will see Macron and whatever’s left in the center-left — including our girl, [German Chancellor] Merkel — they will try to absorb. You know why? Because that's their chakras. That's their energy. Those are the young people, the millennials, who think they have a cause. The center-left doesn't stand for anything, anymore. The Greens are going to be more and more of a dominant force. Where you are going to see the first, head-to-head clashes are going to be in Germany and in France in these next elections.
How important are Green politics for Le Pen’s success? Hervé Juvin, the man who wrote half of the program for the party, has a Green agenda.
When she lost against Macron, two years ago, that was a personal defeat. She said, and this is why I admire her, she said, "I'm going to rebrand Front National to ‘Rassemblement National.’ I'm going to rebrand myself and learn more about economics,” et. cetera." Here's why I admire what she's done. She said, “Our economic and ecological policies will tie into the economic pause. What I'm trying to do is get away from state Capitalism to more entrepreneurism. And what I'm trying to do is get away from shipping all the jobs to China so that they stay here.” Her watchword is “localism.” When you see her, think about the environment. It all ties together. It's an interesting right-wing answer to the Greens. I think she's somebody to watch because I think other people are going to pick this up.
I think in the United States and throughout Europe, they're going to start to embrace her concept of “localism.” What Le Pen is saying, theoretically, is, “Number one, our battle is the Westphalian system of the nation-state versus Globalism.” She says, “Politics is not defined by left and right, anymore. Policy is defined by those people who see the nation-state is something to be overcome versus those who see is to be nurtured.”
As much as she's mocked and ridiculed, she actually has the most coherent political and economic philosophy that's coming together for Populism and Nationalism. Some other guys — like Salvini, and Bolsonaro, and even Trump — are louder and more charismatic. But some of the policies don't totally fit into a whole cloth. What she's arguing is a redefinition of Populism Nationalism, and she's confronting the major challenge of the Greens head-on. No center-right politician is doing that. She's taking it right on and flipping it on its head.
Have you spoken to her, lately?
After, yes. Absolutely. I congratulated her.
What is your message for her?
My message is that the election for president of France started on Monday, after the European elections. What's happening in Europe, right now, is historic. We're at the very beginning of this process.
Here’s what I tell people to watch. The insurgent movement, or the Populist Nationalists, show that they can win campaigns. These people know how to message. They know what's important to people. They know how to get crowds out. And, with no money, they can bootstrap and [bypass] the mainstream media and turn people out to vote.
Will you be involved in European politics in the future? For a long time, you have talked about opening a sort of academy for upcoming Populist Nationalists in a monastery in Trisulti in Italy. You call it, “The Gladiator School”?
I may get involved in a political assault and take on campaigns. But I'm not going to do that, as of now. I may think about it, later. Here's the most important thing. I see this in Trump. I see this in Bolsonaro. And I see this in Salvini. The next phase on what has to be shown is to actually govern. The key thing, now, is Salvini — who may become the prime minister of a country that is starting into a recession — it is “the economy stupid.” Everything is driven by getting the economy going with growth, investment, and jobs.
In that regard, it doesn't look good for Italy and Salvini, at the moment.
The central thing for people to watch — the next phase — is how they govern.
One last thing. We witnessed an interesting development in Denmark where the Social Democrats, under the leadership of Mette Frederiksen, are bound to win the parliamentary elections. Popularity rose when she embraced the migration topic and spoke out for tougher policies against migrants. [Results came in after our interview and confirmed the predictions of a center-left victory.]
I think many people on the center-left understand that they want to keep the social welfare programs they have. We have reached a tipping point where even Social Democrats understand that the topic needs to be dealt with. I call that the “New Nationalism of the Left.” And I think you're going to see much more of that.
Here's the thing I would tell people on the right: It cannot just be about the problem of migration and radicalism. The number one thing you have to focus on is the economy and returning jobs. That will give you the opportunity to take care of the migration.