When Andrew Breitbart died in March 2012, Mitt Romney said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of a “brilliant entrepreneur.” Romney was referring, of course, to Breitbart’s founding of an eponymous website, Breitbart News, which was an enthusiastic cheerleader for Romney’s campaign to defeat incumbent President Barack Obama.
Five years later, the relationship between Romney and Breitbart News has frayed, to say the least. The website’s chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, tore into Romney on Tuesday at a rally in Alabama for Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom Romney had criticized a day earlier.
“You hid behind your religion,” Bannon said. “You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam.”
Once upon a time, Breitbart News would leap to Romney’s defense at the faintest whiff of anti-Mormon bias. That was before Bannon grabbed the site’s steering wheel and turned it sharply right. (Worth another read: McKay Coppins’s October 2012 report on the power struggle that followed Andrew Breitbart’s death.)
Breitbart News was always conservative, but it was Bannon who built the site into the populist, nationalist platform it is today. The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi reported in February that “a source of concern” after Breitbart’s death “was the rise of Bannon to the chairmanship of the site, according to former staffers”; the worry was that the site, under Bannon, “might morph into something very different, an embodiment of their new leader’s passions and grievances, something closer to a de facto ‘Bannon.com.’ ”
In April 2012, seven weeks after Breitbart died, Romney gave a phone interview to Breitbart TV, which streamed live online. Host Larry O’Connor boasted that Breitbart News offered “the best video and audio from the center-right perspective you’ll find anywhere on the Internet.”
“Keep up the fight,” Romney told O’Connor, now a conservative talk-radio host in Washington.
“Many in the media are inclined to do the president’s bidding,” Romney said at another point in the interview, “and I know that’s a battle — it’s an uphill battle we fight with the media generally, but fortunately there are some other voices, like yours, which have, in many cases, a lot more credibility.”
To review: Breitbart News self-identified as “center-right,” and Romney praised the site’s “credibility.”
Eight days before the election, Breitbart News trumpeted a projection that Romney would win at least 279 electoral votes. Four days before the election, the site highlighted an even rosier forecast: 315 electoral votes.
These predictions defied the polling consensus. Romney actually won 206.
In Breitbart News’s old Romney coverage, we see the site’s familiar habit of portraying the world as their loyal readers wish to see it. We also see the site’s ideological shift under Bannon, who has turned Breitbart News into a weapon against the kind of center-right Republicans it once embraced.