Joshua Green’s new book Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency looks at the partnership between the Alt-Right leader and Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon and President Trump. Green gives the inside view of Bannon and Trump’s decision to make the Border Wall a centerpiece of the campaign and the part ICE agents played in the campaign. Accoring to Green:
One reason Bannon decided to establish a Texas bureau was to help Breitbart develop sources among the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and border patrol officers stationed at the U.S.– Mexico border. Many of them held fiercely restrictionist views on immigration that mirrored those of Breitbart’s editors and left the agents increasingly at odds with the pro-reform sentiment building among the leaders in both parties.
By letting it be known that Breitbart was, as Bannon put it, “a safe pair of hands,” the site became the go-to destination for border agents seeking a sympathetic media outlet in which to express their views or vent about immigration matters that they believed the mainstream media was purposely suppressing.
This is how Breitbart became one of the first outlets to publicize the child migrant crisis at the U.S.– Mexico border in the summer of 2014: border agents took snapshots of overcrowded detention facilities and provided them to Breitbart, whose alarmist stories (“ Border Open for Criminals as Agents Forced to Babysit Illegals”) were amplified by the Drudge Report and spread to dozens of mainstream outlets. In the weeks following Trump’s announcement, Bannon arranged to have Local 2455, the Border Patrol Union in Laredo, Texas, invite Trump to the border for a visit on July 23. (The union’s Laredo spokesman was a regular guest on Bannon’s radio show.) Under pressure from the national union, Local 2455 was forced at the last minute to rescind the invitation.
But Trump came anyway, trailing a massive press contingent— and was clearly welcomed by the local border agents.* From the moment the “Trump”-emblazoned Boeing 757-200 airliner touched down in Laredo, Trump’s visit was sheer pandemonium. He had spent the days leading up to the trip bizarrely insisting that he was putting himself in grave danger— even though FBI statistics showed that Laredo was the nineteenth-safest city in the country.
Trump didn’t exactly dress for combat. He arrived at the Laredo airport in a gold-buttoned navy blazer, khakis, and white golf shoes, with a matching white “Make American Great Again” cap, and was besieged by more than a hundred reporters and dozens of camera crews. Still, he kept up the ruse. “People are saying, ‘Oh, it’s so dangerous what you’re doing, Mr. Trump, it’s so dangerous!’” a straight-faced Trump told the assembled press. “I have to do it. We’re showing something.” Reporters piled into two charter buses furnished by Trump and followed his police-escorted motorcade to the World Trade Bridge, where eighteen-wheelers were lined up waiting to cross the border.
In a brief press conference, Trump, always the ringmaster, attacked the anti-immigration bona fides of Texas governor Rick Perry, boasted about his own poll numbers, insisted that anti-Trump protesters along the highway “were all in favor of Trump,” and reiterated his vow to build a wall and “stop the illegals.” “I’ll bring the jobs back,” he declared. “And, you know, the Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump.” He corrected himself: “They already do.” And with that, Trump zipped back to the airport and went home to New York, having spent all of three hours on the ground. The trip’s purpose was pure theater. It was intended to show that Trump meant what he’d said and was willing to go to the border and say it there, too, without equivocation. It was also Trump’s way of thumbing his nose at critics of his “rapists” comment, such as Jeb Bush (who called it “extraordinarily ugly”), even as he denied Bush political oxygen by dominating presidential campaign coverage.