You’ve seen or read or heard of the iconic “War” declaration attributed to the late Andrew Breitbart. You’ve no doubt seen the hashtag on social media declaring a certain action or statement or moment a symbolic example of Breitbart’s #War.
But do you know where this battle cry came from? Do you know how Breitbart and his memory came to be associated with a war? And what that war is about or who it’s being fought for?
Was Breitbart just a combative thug who saw our domestic political debates as a constant battle? Was he a combative, uncivil jerk who engaged in a war with fellow Americans rather than a civil and polite debate of differing ideas?
I’m saddened that “#War” has become so synonymous with Andrew’s memory and legacy because he was not, by nature, a warrior. He was not angry. He was not always looking for a fight. He was hilarious he was generous he was affectionate and he was deeply intellectual. He would much rather debate and cajole and get tipsy with someone who disagreed with him. His instinct was not to pick a fight or start a war.
Let’s remember, for a moment, the first time the “War” idea escaped from Andrew’s lips.
It was CPAC 2012 and the crowd was buzzing in the main room at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel. THis would be the final year the conservative conference was held at the cozy DC confines just a stones-throw from the national zoo.
The room was cramped and anticipation was high for the next speaker. In prior years he had addressed the devoted, conservative base on Saturday morning, a speaking slot reserved for niche personalities who could bring out the faithful on “hangover Saturday.” But today, February 10, 2012, Andrew Breitbart was the main attraction.
The 2012 primaries were in full tilt. Republicans were seemingly split between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Earlier that morning Andrew and I hosted the Dennis Miller Show on nationally syndicated Westwood One radio from the CPAC radio row. On the air (or was it off the air, with Andrew there was hardly ever a difference) he lamented the fact that Republicans were fighting amongst themselves. He just wanted the primary fight over with.
“I really don’t care who the nominee is,” he said. “I just want to fight the Left.”
Occupy Wall Street was literally storming the gates of the CPAC conference and he saw the fight for Obama’s second term perfectly exemplified by the thug-like behavior of the organized anarchists polluting the streets of America’s finest cities. He saw that most Americans were repulsed by the loathsome behavior of the hypocritical criminals living in filth for their well-funded political cause. He was ready for the fight.
As the lights dimmed in the main ballroom a giant screen descended on stage. A specially edited trailer of the upcoming documentary Hating Breitbart by filmmaker Andrew Marcus began. A giant, extreme close-up of Breitbart talking to the gathered throng with a pitch-black background filled the screen. The crowd went nuts. You could hardly even hear what he was saying.
“I am so sick of the media dictating the narrative in this country. I’m so sick of having to be apologetic for who I am. I’m so sick of people in middle America being called ‘fly-over country’ or ‘slope-headed.’
The trailer then cuts to various members of the mainstream media deriding grassroots conservatives as “tea-baggers.” Mocking them. Insulting them. Treating them like their voices aren’t important… like they have no legitimate right to speak out about the left-ward lurch their country had taken during the Obama presidency.
The two minute trailer ends with Breitbart saying:
“And what the Left has stood for with political correctness is to try to get those with whom they disagree to shut up. And the tea party movement and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman and Allen West and all the people that have gone out there against the mainstream media and said ‘You’re gonna call us racist, you’re gonna call us potential Timothy McVeighs?
And the place went nuts.
Andrew died less than three weeks after this iconic moment. After his death, thousands of people have taken up his declaration of “War” and made it their battle cry. “#War” has been included on tweets and headlines and t-shirts and posters. It’s been employed by activists and bloggers and radio hosts and citizens who are just fed up.
But, it took the President of the United States to put Breitbart’s “war” back into its original context.
Andrew was fighting for you. He was fighting for the everyday average American who cared passionately about the direction of their country only to be met with accusations of “racist” and “domestic terrorist” and “tea-bagger” from the elitist political and media figures of the time. Breitbart fought back. His war was against those elites and on behalf of the people who didn’t have that voice.
You may like his policies but you hate his combativeness. You wish he’d put down the Twitter. You cringe when he riffs at his rallies going after the media and his critics with the schoolyard tactics of the crass New Yorker that he is.
But look a little deeper. More often than not, the president employs these tactics because he’s attacking people who’ve attacked his voters. He’s fighting the same war Breitbart declared all those years ago.
“You call my supporters ‘racists’ and ‘Nazis’ and ‘uneducated’ and ‘crazies’ and claim they’re violent at my rallies and call for them to be publicly stalked and verbally assaulted just because they support me?”
And Trump says it with a smile. The same confident and whimsical smile that Breitbart employed.
As a person who worked with and was friends with Andrew Breitbart for so many years I am often asked “What would Andrew think of Trump?” My only honest answer is “I really don’t know.”
Let’s face it, he was incredibly unpredictable. He had his principles and was grounded in fundamental values, but he was tactically unpredictable. His friends and colleagues couldn’t really predict what he would do when he was alive we certainly shouldn’t pretend we know what he’d think years after his death.
I feel pretty confident that he would have been frustrated with the 2016 primaries because he couldn’t wait to go after Hillary or Bernie. I know he had great respect and admiration for many of the GOP candidates and would have wanted his party to coalesce behind its nominee.
And I have the utmost confidence that one thing about then-candidate and now President Donald Trump that would resonate with him was his consistent attacks on the very same media outlets and personalities that were the favorite target of Breitbart’s. Trump understands the media and Breitbart knew that. They both knew that this was war and that the media holds a lion’s share of the ammunition.
To fight back in this war you need to use asymmetric tactics. You need to throw everything you have every day and be ready for the next battle as soon as the last one has been fought because they’ll just keep coming. And the real target in this war is the will and spirit of the American people.
The media and the elites in our culture are trying to convince those who think a different way not to change their minds but to stay quiet and in the shadows. They don’t care if you agree they just want you to shut up and stand aside. Breitbart wouldn’t have it. He fought back. It was war. And Trump continues that fight.
Finally we have Breitbart’s “War” declaration back in its original context. And Commander-in-chief Trump is leading the latest charge. Will you join the fight?