Democrats and human rights organizations oppose the appointment, and establishment Republicans are largely avoiding the issue.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist hate groups, is leading a petition drive urging Trump to reverse the appointment of Bannon, who took a leave of absence as the executive chairman of Breitbart News to join the Trump campaign.
SPLC states in the petition:
“In July, Bannon boasted that Breitbart News was ‘the platform for the alt-right.’ The alt-right, as we know, is simply a rebranding of white nationalism and is the energy behind the avalanche of racist and anti-Semitic harassment that plagued social media platforms for the entire presidential campaign.”
Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, added: “The guy I know is a guy sitting in an office all day yesterday, talking about hiring and in the last few months, this is a guy who has exhibited none of those qualities.”
Bannon defenders are pointing to his credentials, as though his resume precludes him from being a racist.
Priebus highlighted Bannon’s Harvard Business School degree and service as a naval officer.
In her comments to reporters, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway echoed Priebus:
“People should look at the full resume. He has got a Harvard business degree. He’s a naval officer. He has success in entertainment. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. And he certainly was a Goldman Sachs managing partner. Brilliant tactician.”
None of that eases concerns about Bannon’s close ties with the alt-right. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said, “Bannon has boasted that he made Breitbart News ‘the platform for the alt-right,’ which is the politically correct term for the resurrection of white nationalism,” according to Politico.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said Bannon and the alt-right are “hostile to core American values.”
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’”
However, Conway said she’s “personally offended” by the notion that Bannon is part of the alt-right or that she would oversee a campaigned guided by that ideology. “It was not,” she insisted. “Fifty-six million-plus Americans or so saw something else.”
Despite the assurances, like many other Democrats, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sees a red flag with the Bannon appointment.
Pelosi explained her concerns in this statement from her office:
“Bringing Steve Bannon into the White House is an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign. There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump Administration.”
She added that her party is wants to find “common ground” on behalf of “hard-working families.” However, Democrats will not standby if the Trump administration “scapegoat and persecute” groups of Americans they don’t like.