Presidential races

Exclusive: Trump campaign CEO wanted to destroy Ryan

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Steve Bannon, the chairman of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart who became CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, gave explicit orders to his staff to destroy Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).  

On editorial conference calls, the Breitbart chairman would often say “Paul Ryan is the enemy,” according to a source who worked with Bannon at the news organization.

{mosads}In December 2015, weeks after Ryan became Speaker, Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email obtained by The Hill that the “long game” for his news site was for Ryan to be “gone” by the spring.

In the Dec. 1 email, Breitbart’s Washington editor, Matt Boyle, suggested to Bannon via email that a story promoting Ryan’s planned overhaul of the mental health system would be a good way to “open a bridge” to Ryan.

Bannon wasn’t keen on the idea.

“I’ve got a cure for mental health issue,” Bannon wrote to Boyle. “Spank your children more.”

“I get that,” responded Boyle, “but this is a place where we can open a bridge to Paul Ryan — we’re playing the very long long long game Steve.”

Replied Bannon: “Long game is him gone by spring.”

Bannon’s disregard for Ryan has been recorded in other reports, but this is the first time emails have emerged that showed him setting a timeframe for trying to get rid of the Speaker.

Bannon is now giving Trump advice as his campaign CEO.

Trump on Tuesday unleashed a series of tweets directing scorn at the Speaker, who on Monday said he would no longer defend Trump and would instead focus on electing Republicans to the House.

“Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty,” Trump wrote in one tweet.

“Disloyal R’s are far more difficult than Crooked Hillary,” Trump tweeted two hours later. “They come at you from all sides. They don’t know how to win — I will teach them!”

A source close to the Trump campaign said Bannon is not advocating attacking Ryan and it’s Trump himself driving the attacks. 

It’s undeniable, however, that Bannon will play a key role in these final weeks before Election Day.

A former Breitbart staffer said Bannon used to rage against Ryan all the time. 

Bannon views Ryan as a leader of an elite globalist cabal determined to sell out America by opening its borders on immigration and trade.

“Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” the source said, referring to the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist who runs the pro-Trump website Infowars.

“He goes on these amazing rants,” the source added of Bannon. “He thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.”

Bannon did not respond to a request to comment for this story, but an influential figure in the conservative movement who knows Bannon told The Hill there’s nothing unusual about this anger towards Ryan. 

“Many high-level donors and party activists that were not necessarily early Trump supporters are very disappointed in Speaker Ryan,” the conservative figure said, “for not fully supporting the party’s candidate at this most critical time in our country.” 

Another source close to Bannon predicted that more Republicans would follow the lead of California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who called Ryan “cowardly” for saying he’d no longer defend Trump.

“Ryan’s agenda is not in line with the American worker. It’s in line with the Wall Street wing of the permanent political class,” the source close to Bannon said.

“But it’s not just Ryan,” the source added, to characterize Bannon’s thinking. “Every institution in American politics has been exposed as fraudulent and working against the American people.”

“Trump is running against the evil empire,” the source continued. “The entire machine stands against him, and Paul Ryan is the face of the evil empire. But so is Hillary Clinton and so are her allies throughout the mainstream media.”

Establishment Republicans in Washington are terrified about how dirty the war is set to get between Trump and Ryan, now that Bannon is firmly in the driver’s seat.

Bannon believes Ryan masterminded a failed plot to bring down Trump. Bannon thinks this is partly because Ryan wants to rid the Republican Party of populism and partly because he thinks Ryan wants to improve his chances of running for president as a GOP savior in 2020.

During Breitbart’s July coverage of Ryan’s contentious primary race against Wisconsin businessman Paul Nehlen, Bannon’s website ran a story suggesting Ryan was hypocritical for building a “border wall” around his Janesville mansion when he refused to fully support Trump’s proposed wall along the southern border.   

When Ryan opposed Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., Breitbart accused the Speaker of hypocrisy because he wanted no “religious test” for who gets admitted into the country yet sent his children to a Catholic school that uses a religious test in its admissions process.

Ryan ultimately won his primary in a landslide, but not before Breitbart dedicated significant resources to defeating him. Bannon dispatched his top reporter, Boyle, to Janesville to write about the race.

On Monday, Breitbart published a story with the headline: “Falwell: Lewd Trump tape part of GOP coup against Donald, no ‘coincidence’ it came right before Paul Ryan joint appearance.” 

“Breitbart has always been the tip of the spear in the conservative grassroots world,” a source close to Bannon told The Hill on Tuesday.

People who’ve worked with Bannon say it’s foolish to underestimate the lengths Bannon will go to destroy the GOP establishment.

“He’s an instrument of destruction,” said Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart staffer who fell out with Bannon. 

“Bannon has always wanted to burn everything down,” he added, “and any chance he has to wriggle this into a way to destroy Paul Ryan, he’ll absolutely do it.”

Asked about Trump’s Tuesday tweets against Ryan, a spokesman for the Speaker said: “Paul Ryan is focusing the next month on defeating Democrats, and all Republicans running for office should probably do the same.”

Ryan spokesman Zack Roday stressed that Ryan made it clear on his call with House Republicans on Monday that “he’s not conceding the presidential race.”

Asked whether Ryan was maintaining his endorsement of Trump, Roday said: “There is no update in his position at this time.”

In the meantime, buckle up.

Bannon’s strategy is for Trump to “get around” the party and the establishment media that opposes him and speak directly to the American worker, a source familiar with Bannon’s thinking said.

What that exactly means is still unclear, but the unshackled Trump strategy can be seen in Bannon’s orchestration of former President Bill Clinton’s sexual assault accusers turning up to the debate Sunday.

The Trump team has also cut a new ad, titled “Dangerous,” that shows footage of Hillary Clinton coughing, being helped up steps and collapsing into her SUV.

For the last few weeks, one thing is sure: Trump will be campaigning Breitbart-style, with Breitbart’s chief provocateur by his side.

“This is the scene from King Kong,” says Shapiro, “where the Republican Party thought that they had captured King Kong and chained him and they put him on stage for everyone to fear the awesome might of King Kong.”

“And then King Kong breaks free,” Shapiro adds, “and starts trampling people in the audience.” 

Tags Bill Clinton Breitbart News Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan

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