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'Breitbart News' Chairman Hired To Salvage Ailing Trump Campaign

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If you've heard in the last 24 hours that Donald Trump has hired, quote, "the most dangerous political operative in America," you can thank Bloomberg Businessweek and journalist Joshua Green. Last fall Green wrote a profile that bestowed that title on Steve Bannon, and Bannon is Trump's new campaign chief and chairman of Breitbart News. Bannon took over shortly after the news site's founder, conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart, died back in 2012.

Now, for more on Steve Bannon and what he might bring to the Trump team, Joshua Green is here in the studio. Welcome to the program.

JOSHUA GREEN: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: So for everyone who might not be familiar, Breitbart in a nutshell...

GREEN: Breitbart is what I would describe as a right wing populist ethno-nationalist website that really appeals to this splinter group of conservatives who are known collectively as the alt-right. They sort of define themselves as anti-Washington, anti-political, anti-corruption activists who just happen to practice a form of media activist journalism, I guess you'd call it.

CORNISH: And there's a strain of - I guess you're saying - nativism that runs through this and ethnocentrism.

GREEN: Nativism, ethnocentrism, a lot of racial paranoia. They were out and ran the Shirley Sherrod story, demonizing the former Agriculture Department employee who was depicted in a video tape that turned out to have been sort of dishonestly spliced seeming to make racist comments against white people - turned out that she wasn't.

They're very kind of tied in with the far-right mentality that views this all as some great cultural struggle, and they're very much on the side of Trump. But essentially Bannon and Breitbart News really predate Trumpism. They were writing about these sorts of things years before Trump ever came along, and in a sense, he is a vessel for the kind of things that they care about.

CORNISH: So tell us about Steve Bannon. What did he do before he was chairman of Breitbart?

GREEN: Well, so Bannon is a strange and colorful character, especially for Washington. I mean he reminds me sort of a swashbuckling pirate captain who gleefully attacks Republicans and Democrats alike. He grew up in Virginia. He's an ex naval officer who wound up going to Harvard Business School in the '80s, became captivated by Ronald Reagan, moved on to become an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and then moved out to Hollywood where he opened his own boutique investing firm and essentially did big media deals.

He actually negotiated a deal where as part of his payment, in lieu of money, he took syndication rights to the TV show "Seinfeld," which at the time was just starting out but, as you can imagine, wound up being very, very lucrative. And he moved from there into film making, did films about Sarah Palin. And this led him into the Tea Party movement and eventually to Andrew Breitbart.

CORNISH: What is the relationship between Steve Bannon and running this news site and the Republican establishment - you know, congressional leaders like former Speaker John Boehner or even the present-day RNC?

GREEN: Well, the Breitbart folks led by Bannon view themselves as very much outside the mainstream Republican establishment and for years have attacked leading Republican figures. It was the Breitbart team I think that really drove out former House Speaker John Boehner, just made his life miserable to the point that he left. They have tormented his successor, Paul Ryan, sending teams of photographers to Ryan's house to snap pictures. Ryan has a big wall around his house, and the Breitbart folks were upset that he wouldn't endorse Donald Trump's idea of erecting a wall at the Mexican border.

So they made life very difficult and unpleasant for mainstream Republican leaders, and I think that's one reason why so many Republicans are aghast and upset that Trump would make this move because they're trying very hard to contain the negative effects that Trump is having on Republicans up and down the ticket. And all of them view this as something very negative for their own party and their own candidate's chances in November.

CORNISH: Joshua Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek. Thank you for coming in.

GREEN: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.