Tags: Presidential History | Steve Bannon | franklin d roosevelt | white house | adviser | american history

FDR Had His Own Steve Bannon

Image: FDR Had His Own Steve Bannon
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump, and White House senior counsel Jared Kushner (Andrew Harnik/AP)

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Tuesday, 09 January 2018 10:35 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The news late Tuesday that Steve Bannon had resigned as executive chairman of Breitbart News was, for many White House reporters, the fall of a unique and colorful personality who rose swiftly.

But to some historians, the rapid rise and fall of Bannon — who went from top campaign lieutenant to Trump to White House counselor and then to political influential private citizen — is not new.

His quicksilver career in the limelight suggests to many a figure from another time: Gen. Hugh Johnson, who was, for all intents and purposes, Franklin D. Roosevelt's Steve Bannon.

"Steve Bannon, like Hugh Johnson, had an enormous ego and a disputatious personality," said author and historian Justin Coffey of Quincy (Ill.) University. "Both thought they could conquer Washington. Both were proven wrong."

Like U.S. Naval officer Bannon, West Point graduate Johnson came from a middle class background. The native Oklahoman saw action in World War I and became an expert in military procurement and the intertwining of the military and industrial sectors.

Bannon ended his naval career to enter the private sector and, after graduating from Harvard Business School, he joined Goldman Sachs at their Wall Street offices. When Johnson resigned from the army, he became an executive with the Moline Plow Company. Like Bannon, he ended up on Wall Street, joining financier Bernard Baruch as an assistant.

Just as Bannon got to know then-candidate Donald Trump through his wealthy supporters Robert and Rebekah Mercer, Johnson's conduit to Democratic presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt was major Democratic donor Baruch.

Bannon would delight and startle Trump and his inner circle with phrases such as "go nuclear" and "going to war."

"Johnson's energy and his flair for razor-sharp phrase-making endeared him to Roosevelt from their first encounter," wrote Michael Hiltzik in "The New Deal."

In his first meeting, Hiltzick wrote, Johnson "performed a dramatic meeting of an indictment of the Hoover Administration he had drafted as a campaign document. His declamatory roar . . . resounded . . . periodically punctuated by applause and Roosevelt's dramatic laughter."

"It's great stuff," Roosevelt told aide Raymond Moley. "Water it down 70 percent and make it into a speech."

Much as Bannon became a White House counselor against the wishes of some on the "Trump Train" because he was volatile and uncontrollable, Hugh Johnson was tapped to run President Roosevelt's top agency to end the Depression from the White House: the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which oversaw fair-trade codes and end "destructive competition" the administration saw as a threat to profitablility.

Time Magazine named Johnson "Man of the Year" for 1933. But, in a few months, his outspokenness and the growing sense he could not be subordinate to anyone set in. Roosevelt eased him out.

It is very likely, his Breitbart period behind him, Steve Bannon will follow in Hugh Johnson's footsteps and become an independent pundit. The old New Dealer would spend the rest of his life (he died in 1942) as a columnist and radio commentator.

Johnson would eventually turn on his old boss Roosevelt in the late 1930's and supported Republican opponent Wendell Willkie in 1940.

Whether Bannon behaves the same way toward Trump will be reason enough to conclude he is still someone to watch in the years ahead.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Steve Bannon's short-lived time in the elite political limelight reminds Newsmax's John Gizzi of Franklin D. Roosevelt's own Bannon: Gen. Hugh Johnson.
franklin d roosevelt, white house, adviser, american history
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2018-35-09
Tuesday, 09 January 2018 10:35 PM
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