A Bannonite Brain Trust, or Why Steve Bannon Should Form a Think Tank

A Bannonite Brain Trust, or Why Steve Bannon Should Form a Think Tank

Skidmore, Creative Commons

Opinion — Steve Bannon's recent interview on 60 Minutes was a fascinating thing to watch. Over the course of the interview, the former Chief Strategist pushed hard on his-and President Trump’s-agenda. The interview saw Bannon share his thoughts on the repeal of DACA as well as his concerns the issue could spark interparty disunity. He revealed that he disagreed with Trump firing Comey, referring to it as  "the biggest political mistake of modern history." The most interesting parts of his interview, however, pertained to his outlook regarding the establishment Republican leadership. He slammed the Bush-era "geniuses" who pushed for the Iraq War and accused Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell of  trying to reverse the 2016 election outcome. During the interview, it was clear that Bannon was unhappy with Trump hiring so many individuals affiliated with the establishment GOP, referring to it as the administration's original sin. While he clearly demonstrated his support for the president, it is also clear he is unhappy that there are so many establishment-affiliated individuals in the White House and Congress.

However, there is a solution to this problem that Bannon and like-minded Trump supporters face and Bannon himself is himself uniquely suited to push for it. That would be creating a think tank to advocate for his brand of economic nationalism. Think tanks like the liberal Brookings Institute,  the conservative Heritage Foundation, or the libertarian Cato Institute exist and produce heavy amounts of research directed towards the advocacy of their political agenda. All three of these think tanks rank among the top 10 most influential in the country and are dedicated to a particular set of ideological principles. So long as there is a market for a particular set of policies, there is the market for organizations dedicated to research and advocacy for these. Despite this, as of now, there is no prominent think tank dedicated to advocacy for America First populist, nationalist conservatism that rejects multinational trade deals, open borders and unnecessary foreign entanglements. The creation of a think tank dedicated to these ideas would ensure the message does not disappear from Washington.

There is a compelling reason to desire the creation of a populist conservative think tank beyond the general advocacy for these policies. Think tanks help provide a pool of personnel to work for political leaders. Consider the individuals considered to make up the nationalist wing of the Trump administration: Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller and Mike Flynn . As of now, of these men, only Sessions and Miller remain in the White House. Without an organization dedicated to advocating for nationalist causes and with limited nationalist individuals who could be hired, Trump had to accept in his White House a large number of establishment figures, recruiting former Goldman Sachs executives and generally interventionist generals instead of advocates for economic nationalism or a realist foreign policy. Having a think tank with a staff dedicated to these principles would ensure that later nationalist leaders would have pools to recruit from.  Given Bannon believes that"draining the swamp" would take another decade or two, having a pool for the next nationalist leader of the United States could only be helpful.

Bannon in particular is uniquely suited to pushing for the creation of such a think tank. Given his close relationship with megadonor Robert Mercer, he would be in a very good position to fundraise for investment in a hypothetical nationalist think tank. Even now, he is working with Mercer on primary challenges  directed at Republicans they view as challenging the Trump agenda. Clearly, if Bannon realizes the merit of creating a nationalist think tank, he could easily get Mercer onboard and perhaps appeal to other pro-Trump billionaires like Peter Thiel. Obviously, there would be issues with staffing such a think tank, at least to begin with, but ultimately creating a think tank to advocate for Bannon’s preferred policies is definitely possible and certainly desirable. Given Bannon’s own savviness, there is a good chance he is already considering doing this. Don’t be surprised if, before 2020, we see the establishment of a new nationalist think tank, perhaps called the Henry Clay Institute or something similar.

Follow this author on Twitter: @mitchellastern


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