Steve Bannon taunted Hillary Clinton, recounted stories from a roller coaster 2016 presidential election and defended GOP Alabama Senate Roy Moore before a roaring crowd of about 320 Republicans at The Citadel on Friday night.
But the controversial champion of the GOP’s far-right wing, who drew about as many protesters to Charleston as supporters, did not use the occasion to endorse a candidate in the Palmetto State’s 2018 race for governor – even with three hopefuls in the crowd.
The former White House chief strategist was in town to accept the Citadel Republican Society’s Nathan Hale Patriot Award, which also has gone to then-candidate Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, in recent years.
The Breitbart News chief fired up the crowd by ribbing the “mainstream media,” calling for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ouster and clapping back at critics who call him a bigot.
“This is a whole room full of deplorables,” Bannon joked to applause, referring to a Clinton quote that became a badge of honor for Trump supporters.
Bannon brought up Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused of pursuing inappropriate relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. He hinted that a story released Saturday could uncover “collusion” and possible payments prompting the Washington Post’s story on Moore earlier this week.
“Until I see additional evidence on Judge Moore, I’m standing with him,” Bannon said to applause.
He repeatedly denied that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, and attacked Republicans for allowing three ongoing congressional investigations into the issue.
“No,” Bannon said. “You guys (Democrats) had a terrible candidate, and she lost. Embrace it. Embrace it. Or, I’ve got an idea: Run her again.”
He called Clinton a “phony” and described Trump’s election last November as the “single greatest come-from-behind victory in American political history.”
“We had the greatest candidate. We had the best message.”
An architect of Trump’s “America First” approach, Bannon also took aim at globalization and bad trade deals, which he said gutted America’s heartland and robbed blue-collar jobs.
“This,” Bannon said, “is how great powers collapse.”
Meanwhile, across the street, about 200 protesters toted signs and decried Bannon as a racist and bigot whose views do not mirror Charleston’s.
“He’s a white supremacist,” said Rosemary Serpa, a 65-year-old retired teacher from Charleston. “I’m disgusted.”
Stephanie McCummings, a former high school teacher from Irmo, said Bannon represents the views she taught during her history lessons on about the oppression of African-Americans and Jews.
“We should not have modern-day Nazis,” McCummings said. “There was a war fought to defeat then. And we won.”
Meanwhile, 75-year-old Navy veteran Thomas Meservey said the Bannon invitation reflects poorly on the Citadel Republican society.
“If the Citadel Republican Society has invited him to speak to them, they must want to hear what he has to say,” Meservey said. “We will not stand for hate in Charleston.”
In response to intense backlash over the invitation, The Citadel’s president, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, issued a statement describing the school as a “venue where ideas from many points of view are shared.”
“One of the foundational principles that we teach our cadets and students is that while we will not agree on every issue, we will respect the opinions of others, even when we strongly disagree,” Rosa wrote.
Bannon said he didn’t mind those protesters, or the one who managed to enter the dinner and shout loudly at Bannon before she was whisked away by law enforcement.
“They’ve got every right to do it,” he said.
Three 2018 candidates for governor didn’t miss the chance to cozy up to Bannon, but none came away with a public endorsement.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster declared, “Nobody did more to elect Donald Trump than Steve Bannon.”
Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, one of the event’s top sponsors, thanked Bannon for his “courage to challenge the entrenched establishment class” and called for a Bannon-esque movement at the State House.
Former DHEC chief Catherine Templeton introduced Bannon as “a patriot, a fighter and a conservative who speaks for the rest of us.”