BOISE — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s offices have been inundated with calls protesting Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.
Bannon was executive chairman of the popular right-wing news website Breitbart until he stepped aside from that role this summer to help run Trump’s campaign. The website’s coverage was generally supportive of Trump throughout the election and often comes from a nationalist perspective, frequently running articles critical of immigrants, Muslims, and of refugee resettlement, including many about refugee resettlement in Twin Falls over the summer.
It has been accused by many of its critics of promoting bigotry and sexism, and white nationalist leaders such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke have cheered Bannon’s appointment, seeing it as a sign Trump plans to stick to his hard-line campaign promises on issues like immigration.
Others aren’t so thrilled, and they’re letting Crapo know.
“It really shouldn’t be that hard to condemn,” said Emily Walton, a Boise resident using social media to encourage people to call Crapo’s office to protest Bannon’s new role in the White House.
Walton said her goal was to get 1,000 people to call the senator’s offices. She doesn’t know how many people actually have, although the graphic she created at the beginning of the week encouraging people to phone Crapo with their disapproval has been shared more than 300 times on Facebook and more than 50 times on Twitter, and Crapo himself said he has been getting “a lot of contact with regard to his nomination.”
Crapo told the Times-News he would “carefully evaluate” Bannon.
“I am actually vetting not only Mr. Bannon but all of Trump’s nominees right now,” he said.
Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said Crapo doesn’t know much about Bannon and isn’t a Breitbart reader. He also said his boss would look into it, but that there’s not much Crapo could do other than registering his objection should he decide to.
“He’s not a cabinet person or a secretary,” Nothern said of Bannon. “The Senate does not have the ability to ratify or confirm him.”
Walton, though, said Crapo has “more power than he’s letting on,” because people would take notice were he to condemn the appointment.
Walton was a Hillary Clinton supporter who has lobbied for Democratic causes, but she said getting people to protest Bannon’s appointment is about Bannon, not about attacking Trump.
“Let me be clear, this is not condemning Trump,” she said. “This is condemning Trump’s hiring a known white supremacist to be the chief strategic officer at the White House.”
Walton said she views this as particularly pertinent to Idaho, given the history of white supremacist activity in northern Idaho. Many of the callers, she said, have personal experience with white supremacists in their towns.
“They know what white supremacy does in a community, and it concerns them greatly,” she said.
While some have also been calling U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, Walton said she is targeting Crapo because she views him as “the person who has enough moral courage” to say something.
“I think as we get farther and farther into this Trump administration, we’re going to have more opportunities to have moderate Republicans like Crapo to step forward and do the right things for the country,” she said.
Bannon’s supporters have said he is not a white nationalist, white supremacist or an anti-Semite, as some of his critics have claimed. Breitbart has run numerous articles defending Bannon against his left-wing critics since Trump announced the appointment. Trump spokesman Jason Miller told MSNBC host Kristen Welker on Wednesday that Bannon has “embraced diversity.”
“I think some of your descriptions were way out of bounds here,” Miller said. “Steve Bannon is a Zionist, he is someone who is so solidly pro-Israel, he went and founded Breitbart Jerusalem. He’s someone, his entire life — everything from mentoring African-Americans youth during his life. I mean, he’s had this great record.”
Many Democrats have attacked Trump’s appointment of Bannon to such an influential role. A group of 169 congressional Democrats sent Trump a letter Wednesday urging him to dump Bannon. Republicans who have spoken publicly have generally defended the appointment. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., whom Breitbart has frequently attacked because of his more moderate views on immigration, declined to criticize Bannon when asked about the appointment. The site once published an article critical of Ryan for sending his children to Catholic school, casting it as hypocritical because Ryan supports letting Muslims enter the United States; another attacked him for building a fence around his home because he didn’t include funding for a Mexican border fence in a spending bill.
“Look, I would just simply say that the president is going to be judged on his results,” Ryan told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. “I’m not looking backwards, I’m looking forward.”