Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist associated with global far-right nationalist movements, has urged Republicans to “find our AOCs” – a reference to the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – to claim the mantle of the party of the working class.
In an interview with the Guardian at his Capitol Hill townhouse, Bannon, who helped shape the party in Donald Trump’s image, argued that Republicans have to fight back against the “perfect casting” of Democrats elected to Congress last year by boosting equivalents from their own ranks.
The combative 66-year-old is the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, which he once described as “the platform of the ‘alt-right’”, a movement that has embraced racism and antisemitism, and an ex-chairman of Donald Trump’s divisive 2016 election campaign.
His transition to a senior role at the White House was hailed as “excellent” by the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and “amazing” by Peter Brimelow of the white nationalist site VDAR. Bannon left the administration in 2017 after playing a key role in the US president’s equivocation over a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was widely condemned, but remains influential.
“We’ve turned the Republican party into a working-class party,” said Bannon, relaxing at a table with an autographed photo of Trump behind him. “Now, interestingly, we don’t have any elected representatives who believe that, but that’s a legacy issue. We’ll get over that. We’ve got to find our AOCs.”
Ocasio-Cortez, a 30-year-old former bartender from New York, was elected to Congress last year and has built a huge social media following as a member of “the Squad”, a group of four progressive women of colour. Her eagerly sought presidential endorsement went to fellow progressive senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Democrats and their supporters have “better casting”, Bannon admitted. “They did an amazing job in 18. I keep saying I admire AOC. I think her ideology’s all fucked up, but I want her. I want to recruit bartenders. I don’t want to recruit any more lawyers. I want bartenders.”
Congressional Republicans are dominated by ageing white men from comfortable backgrounds. Among Democrats, Bannon also pointed to military veterans such as Max Rose of New York and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, both elected as the party swept the House of Representatives in 2018. “That’s perfect casting. That’s why we got smoked.”
Democrats were boosted in the midterms by Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, who spent $110m through his own political action committee. An impressive 21 of the 24 candidates he supported won their races. Bloomberg is now also running for the Democratic nomination for president in the 2020 US election.
“People are missing the point about Bloomberg,” said Bannon, who co-hosts a radio programme about Trump’s impeachment called War Room. “Trump wouldn’t be impeached if it were not for Bloomberg. It’s Bloomberg’s hundred million dollars that won the seats … The Democrat party is just like Republicans: a pass through. There’s no actual people to do anything. They’re not out in any state ringing doorbells. Those activist groups are. That’s where Bloomberg put his hundred million dollars.”
In a second interview by phone last week, Bannon drew parallels with the British general election, in which Conservative Boris Johnson trounced Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, accused of failing to stamp out antisemitism in the party. Johnson took a wrecking ball to a “red wall” in traditional working-class areas, just as Trump broke through the “blue wall” in midwestern states in the 2016 election.
“I think it’s a victory for populism,” Bannon said, “Obviously radical economic ideas and socialism and more government involvement, coupled with virulent antisemitism, is not a winning ticket. I believe the Democratic party here, particularly on the far left – the Squad, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders – should embrace the lessons because I don’t believe it was just Corbyn’s personality.”
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