Breitbart News, the internet’s most popular website where white nationalist politics commingle with gripes about the unsatisfactory dick size of video game characters, has supported Donald Trump unequivocally since back when his presidential candidacy looked like a long shot. Now, as Republican lawmakers are rolling out their Obamacare replacement and Trump is preparing for the first major legislative challenge of his presidency, a revealing report on the inner workings of Breitbart from from Oliver Darcy at Business Insider shows that the organization may be stepping up its attacks on the establishment wing of the White House, further complicating the testy relationship between Trump’s most extreme advisers and their more moderate counterparts.
Steve Bannon, the man who used to run Breitbart, is Trump’s chief strategist and was the CEO of his campaign. Together with his protege Stephen Miller, Bannon represents the extremist id of the Trump administration, architecting such ghastly policies as the Muslim ban and generally advocating that the White House take the most far-right possible position on any given issue. On the other side, there is Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, a GOP lifer who’s so entrenched in the party establishment that his last job was chairman of the RNC. No one would call Priebus a moderate, exactly, but he at least has a sense of how politics are typically conducted, and he theoretically seeks to temper the president’s wild impulses and nudge him toward the traditionally conservative agenda that lawmakers like House Speaker Paul Ryan have spent eight years waiting to enact.
Item one on that agenda is repealing the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, and replacing it with a plan that’s more oriented toward the “free market” and less oriented toward protecting poor people. The Bannon-Miller wing of the administration would like to see the ACA obliterated entirely, but Ryan and his fellow congresspeople have constituents who would be very unhappy if that were to happen. The plan the House leadership unveiled this week would gut major sections of Obamacare, such as its individual and corporate mandates for insurance, but keep some of its provisions that have proven popular across party lines, like the requirement to insure patients with preexisting conditions and the option for young adults to remain on their parents’ coverage until age 26. So far, Trump has come out in support of the plan, despite opposition many influential conservative think tanks and donors, probably because he’s listening to the advice of the Priebus wing of his administration.
Which brings us back to Breitbart. As Darcy writes, until now, the extreme-right site has gritted its teeth and tolerated establishment Trump administration figures like Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer. But yesterday, the site bared its fangs. “Obamacare 2.0 Guts Enforcement, Gives Illegal Aliens Health Care Through Identity Fraud,” read the top headline on its front page for most of the day, on a report that excoriated Ryan’s healthcare plan for not going far enough to dismantle the ACA. Another story, by Breitbart Washington editor Matt Boyle, took Spicer to task for inaccurately stating that the Ryan plan constituted a full repeal of the ACA.
Someone at the site leaked transcripts of an internal chat from yesterday evening to Darcy, which showed Boyle giving a pep talk to his minions, probably thinking he sounded like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but coming off more like Eric Cartman in the South Park episode about World of Warcraft.
“We are Breitbart,” Boyle wrote in a Slack conversation about his story, according to a screenshot obtained by Business Insider. “This is war.”Boyle added: “There are no sacred cows in war.”
Darcy’s story also contains a fascinating tidbit about Bannon personally calling Boyle to yell at him for publishing a previous negative story about Priebus and telling him not to publish any more critical articles about the chief of staff in the future. Boyle reportedly responded by telling his fellow staffers that Bannon is guilty of “treason.” (It seems likely that the story in question is this one, penned by Boyle last month about how Priebus’s future at the White House is supposedly “in doubt.”)
It’s clear that whoever leaked the story to Darcy is hoping to show that Breitbart’s editorial staff remains independent and won’t be cowed by its former boss and his friends–“The thing about Boyle is you can’t stop him. You can’t control him,” one anonymous staffer says–but the impression you come away with is that Breitbart could be on the brink of heated partisan disarray, just like the White House.