According to a profile published in The New York Times on Sunday, Steve Bannon had first encouraged the then-senator of Alabama, Jeff Sessions, to run for president as a means of advancing their shared nationalist agenda.
Bannon is one of the more controversial of figures behind the Trump administration, with no “meaningful experience” in law or government. According to the NYT, Bannon had only a few contacts on Capitol Hill prior to his association with Trump, including Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. John Culberson.
Bannon’s interest at becoming politically involved and forwarding his nationalist agenda predates working with Trump. In January 2013, says NYT writer Robert Draper, Bannon hosted Sen. Sessions, whom Bannon calls “his mentor,” along with Sessions’ aide, Stephen Miller, for a meetup in what Bannon dubbed the “Breitbart Embassy” in Washington D.C..
Bannon asked to the two to read an election analysis of Mitt Romney’s failed bid against President Barack Obama. Titled “The Case of the Missing White Voters,” the RealClearPolitics article noted that Obama’s win could be ascribed not to an increase in Latino voters, but to the fact that 6.6 million white voters who showed up at the polls in 2008 opted out for 2012. According to the analysis, although white working class voters didn’t like Obama, they were even more put off by Romney’s air of elitism.
According to Draper, Sessions was completely on board with courting the white working class through calls to a nationalist set of policies, in order to put power back in the hands of the Republican Party. Romney’s failure to appeal to Latino voters was often blamed for his sound beating in the election, but Sessions and Bannon both thought otherwise.
Bannon told Draper that he had encouraged Sessions to run for the Oval Office, saying: “We have to run you for president.”
Bannon thought Sessions would lose, but he also thought that a Sessions candidacy would turn the conversation to trade inequity, particularly against China, the top enemy in Bannon’s “economic nationalist” plan. Sessions agreed with Bannon that emphasizing the preservation of the working class by reducing immigration, bolstering the border would see the return of the Republican majority in Washington. In a memo to fellow Republicans, Session had written:
“This humble and honest populism — in contrast to the administration’s cheap demagoguery — would open the ears of millions who have turned away from our party.”
Bannon told Draper that even though he didn’t think Sessions would win, he told the senator:
“You’re not going to win, but you can get the Republican nomination. And once you control the apparatus, you can make fundamental changes. Trade is No. 100 on the party’s list. You can make it No. 1. Immigration is No. 10. We can make it No. 2.”
According to Bannon, he offered Sarah Palin the same thing in 2011. Palin, caught up in her new celebrity and unexpected riches was most likely put off that Bannon had predicted that she wouldn’t win. Palin also wasn’t a keen student of policy, to say the least.
Bannon also told Draper that he certainly wasn’t interested in running for president himself:
“It was pretty obvious by the end of the night that another candidate would have to do it.”
Sessions was that candidate until Bannon attended the CPAC a few months later, where Trump was speaking. Bannon’s conservative website Breitbart took up early and enthusiastic support for the former TV reality show host after Trump announced his candidacy.
Sessions, notably, is currently Trump’s new attorney general. Sessions is saddled with a history of ignominy. When nominated for a U.S. District Court judicial seat in 1986, his poor record on civil rights and history of racist remarks put him out of the running.