After the stinging defeat of his candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election, former Trump White House aide and Breitbart News head Steve Bannon worked to resurrect his image as a political kingmaker Monday by bragging about his “successful” support of Lee Zeldin, a Jewish pro-Trump Long Island congressman.
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Bannon’s right-wing Breitbart website, which he once called a “platform for the alt-right” featured an “exclusive” report boasting that a fundraiser that Bannon held for Rep. Lee Zeldin “set a record for the congressman for this year,” though the article didn’t specify an amount.
The article claimed that House Speaker Paul Ryan had “abandoned” Zeldin by canceling a scheduled fundraiser for him. Bannon, the report claimed, then swooped in and said he would headline the fundraiser for Zeldin. “I felt it was my duty to do whatever I could to help Congressman Zeldin is an American Patriot,” Bannon told the site he leads.
The fundraising event, held last Thursday in Manhattan, was picketed by left-wing Jewish groups. About three dozen protestors chanted and waved signs reading “Zeldin is a bad Jew,” “As a Jew, I reject you” and “Shanda,” (Yiddish for scandal), according to report in Newsday.
The report said that the event cost attendees at least $500 per ticket and offered "sponsorships" for up to $5,400 (dishing out $2,700 will earn you the tile “Mensch." According to Newsweek, Bannon and Zeldin have bonded over their shared position on Israel.
Ryan cancelled his sponsorship of the Zeldin fundraiser after the Long Island congressman withheld support from the House version of the tax reform bill in protest of the limited deductions it stipulates for state and local taxes.
Earlier in the week, leading up to the event, protests were held outside Zeldin’s Long Island home, the Suffolk Times reported, with demonstrators calling on him to disinvite Bannon from the event.
Zeldin even defended Bannon in a CNN interview last month, shrugging off accusations that the former Trump adviser supported white supremacist and anti-Semitic causes, saying that Bannon has “gotten a bad rap” and that “there’s a lot about his background that doesn’t get talked about.” Bannon, Zeldin claimed, “is someone who passionately speaks to me about the need to combat the rising BDS movement that’s taking place on college campuses and also abroad” including “moving the embassy to Jerusalem.”
When introducing the former Trump aide at the recent Zionist Organization of America gala, Zeldin vouched for Bannon “as a Jewish man,” asserting that, “Steve Bannon is a friend of Israel and he is a friend of Judaism.”
In the Breitbart article published Monday, Zeldin does not give Bannon the sole credit for the “success” of the fundraiser, as the headline implies. In the piece, Zeldin is quoted thanking Bannon along with “many other supporters” for organizing “my best fundraiser of the year.”
In line with Breitbart's joint-focus on the left and the GOP establishment, Zeldin then said he was “under attack by some of the most hate-filled liberal obstructionists in America all while facing retribution from the Speaker for doing right by my own constituents and state.”
In a recurring Breitbart theme, the article framed Zeldin’s race as part of Bannon’s war with “establishment Republicans”, who he says are trying to distance President Trump from his former campaign chair by trying to brand him as a loser in the wake of the defeat of Roy Moore. The Alabama GOP candidate, who was strongly backed by Bannon, lost to Democrat Doug Jones in a campaign shadowed by charges that Moore made multiple sexual advances to teenage girls decades ago.
It sought to counter that impression by emphasizing that the Bannon-backed Zeldin fundraiser took place after the results in Alabama “and was still a massive success."
In case the point was missed, the article returns to its main theme, and explains: "meaning that the GOP establishment’s efforts to cut Bannon off from donors are failing miserably” and that Bannon’s is now "navigating a new bevy of donors. Nailing the point home, the article explains that: "The GOP establishment’s plot to eliminate him and the economic nationalist movement is getting trickier and more unlikely to be successful by the minute.”
Zeldin, who represents Suffolk County, is one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress. He has been a staunch supporter of Trump, both during his presidential candidacy and in the White House. After the confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters turned violent in Charlottesville last summer, Zeldin defended Trump’s remarks that there was violence on both sides, saying “it is not right to suggest that President Trump is wrong for acknowledging the fact that criminals on both sides showed up for the purpose of being violent. That particular observation is completely true.”
Although Zeldin, 37, is popular and won his last race by a large margin, his district has been identified by the Democratic party as a battleground for 2018 as part of their strategy to win back control of the House.