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Steve Bannon makes a comeback in Europe — and promises ‘a brave new world’ as populists prepare to govern

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PRAGUE — Politics hasn’t been going Stephen K. Bannon’s way lately in Alabama, Mississippi or Nevada. 

But at least the anti-establishment provocateur, a former Goldman Sachs banker, has the Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy.

The man who helped mastermind President Trump’s election spread the gospel of working-class revolt in the gilded ballroom of a 19th-century neo-Renaissance palace on an island in Prague on Tuesday. 

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And as was the case the last time he toured Europe , in March, he had fresh victories to celebrate. 

Last month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — a man Bannon has described as “a hero” — won a crushing reelection victory that has opponents fearing a crackdown in a country veering toward the autocratic.

This week, Italian anti-establishment parties are finalizing plans for what is likely to be the first truly populist government in Western Europe. The prospect has the European Union’s defenders nervous about a politically and economically damaging clash to come. But Bannon was delighted.

“This is monumental,” he said in an interview before taking the stage to debate Lanny Davis, a longtime Clinton confidant. “I think it’s going to be a brave new world.”

Bannon’s reasons for cheer in Europe stand in contrast to his political prospects in the United States. In less than a year, he has been booted from his job as White House chief strategist, excoriated by his former boss on Twitter and exiled by the far-right website he built into a media powerhouse.

In recent months, his ambitions to remake the Republican Party with several Senate primary challenges have come to naught , with candidates falling short or dropping out.

But Europe is a different story. Bannon’s continental travels suggest he still has big plans for a populist uprising he has long seen as transatlantic.

And the success of nationalist parties in Hungary and Italy — coupled with the triumph earlier this year in Prague of a president who has referred to himself as “the Czech Trump” — indicates that Europe’s populist fever is far from breaking.

Bannon said he is not formally advising any of Europe’s populist parties and is instead focused on picking up lessons from a continent that he described as “maybe two years in the cycle ahead of the United States” in its populist embrace.

“There’s a lot to learn from Europe,” he said.

But he’s also not been shy about offering advice when asked.

Bannon is due to visit Hungary on Wednesday. He declined to say whether he will meet with Orban, but Bannon has been an outspoken fan of the prime minister’s hard-line stance against immigration.

Bannon said he has already been speaking with top officials of the League, the far-right party that is on the verge of becoming one half of Italy’s new governing coalition, and he hopes to travel there later in the week.

If he does, he said he will encourage League leaders to take the sort of uncompromising stances for which he’s deservedly known.

The likely new government has proposed a blend of spending hikes and tax cuts that would vastly expand the deficit in a country that is already among Europe’s most indebted, putting Italy on a collision course with an E.U. that demands fiscal discipline.

Bannon said the clash was inevitable and that the prospective new government, which also includes the politically ambidextrous Five Star Movement, should embrace it.

“It’s very important for these guys to be very aggressive about confronting Brussels,” he said.

That won’t be welcome news for Europe’s political mainstream, which has watched with growing apprehension the approach, as a recent Financial Times headline put it, of the “ modern barbarians ” toward the gates of Rome.

Then again, provoking the mainstream is a Bannon specialty, as he showed repeatedly during his public appearance Tuesday.

Beneath the grand chandeliers and the frescos, in front of a button-down audience of Czech political observers and business executives, Bannon dismissed the postwar international order as “a fetish.”

He predicted German Chancellor Angela Merkel “will go down as the single worst political figure of the 21st century.” And echoing his onetime boss, he repeatedly chastised Europe for not paying its fair share of the defense bill.

“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he admonished, although it was unclear to whom, exactly, he was speaking.

The event was an unusual Washington faceoff in an unlikely locale, one that pitted Bannon against Davis, Bill Clinton’s special counsel during impeachment and a key Hillary Clinton surrogate.

The event, sponsored by a Czech military contractor for whom Davis lobbies, was a chance for antagonists from opposite sides of the 2016 campaign to, in Davis’s words, “disagree agreeably.”

And for the most part they did, although neither had anything kind to say about the other’s candidate 18 months after the nation cast its votes.

Trump, Davis argued, has cratered relations with the United States’ closest allies and alienated citizens across Europe with his lies, his unilateral decisions and his hostile rhetoric.

“There has never been a more negative view of the president of the United States” in Europe, Davis said. “That’s not Angela Merkel’s fault.”

Bannon, for his part, called Hillary Clinton as “ambitious as Lucifer” and the “guardian of an incompetent and corrupt establishment.”

As for Trump, Bannon conceded that the president “has his good days and his bad days.”

But overall, Bannon defended the man who fired him and who derided him on Twitter as “Sloppy Steve.”

Sporting his trademark look — unshaven, with roughly combed-back gray hair, and wearing a sports coat over multiple shirts — Bannon seemed to relish the idea that the November midterm elections will be a referendum on whether Trump should be impeached.

After setbacks in his home country, that’s one contest he suggested his side could win.

“I’ve got Donald Trump. Show me what you’ve got,” he said. “It’s going to be 2016 all over again.”

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