Bongino — a former police officer and Secret Service agent who was a latecomer to the talk-show world — is the surprise leader in the far-right media sweepstakes set off by Trump’s refusal to concede the election. While the president’s chances of clinging to power remain wafer-thin, the prospect of a new conspiracy theory that could dominate right-wing discourse for four years is not being ignored by the pundits, podcasters and mini-moguls who populate MAGA-world.
Even as he fights a public battle with Hodgkin’s Disease — a treatable cancer of the lymphatic system — Bongino is pushing himself to a career high: In the days following the election, he had the No. 1 podcast on iTunes, besting The Joe Rogan Experience and The New York Times’ The Daily. His Facebook posts were among the most-shared posts in the United States almost every day, putting Bongino on par with all of Fox News.
And an app that Bongino partly owns and unfailingly promotes, Parler, saw an explosion of post-election interest from Republicans furious at Twitter for placing warning labels on the president’s tweets. Soon, Parler became the No. 1 app on iTunes for five days in a row and was similarly popular on Android, where it remains in the top slot.
Bongino, a Queens native, celebrated the victory by praising his followers on Parler for giving “a collective middle finger” to Twitter and the rest of big tech — a favorite foil. Then he resumed his usual posting: Dozens of links that drive either to his show or to stories aggregated by his website, BonginoReport.com, that he set up as an alternative to the popular Drudge Report, which Bongino has repeatedly said “sold us out” by catering too much to moderates and liberals and not enough to Trump’s base.
While the 45-year-old Bongino lacks the widespread clout of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, he has found a lucrative role to play in the increasingly segregated, angry internet, where different audiences rarely interact, or even see each other’s content.
Bongino’s popularity has surprised both Democratic and Republican operatives, who are not Bognino’s target audience and who, for the most part, do not listen to his show. For an hour each weekday, he rails against mask mandates, probes the latest news on Hunter Biden’s business dealings and, in recent days, offers highly dubious spins on alleged irregularities and unusual voting patterns in the 2020 election. On Facebook, he posts clips of himself in a t-shirt, recording the podcast and talking straight-to-camera, giving the posts a sense of intimacy.
Bongino said in an interview that, though he repeatedly highlights accounts of questionable votes and possible ballot harvesting, “I make very clear on the show, I’m not saying it’s fraud.” But he isn’t above raising questions about the vote for days on end — and there’s a booming market for such stories.
“People like the content on my Facebook page because it’s me — it’s my clips, from my show, that millions upon millions of people see,” Bongino said. “People find my stuff genuine and they share it. Why are we more popular than The New York Times and The Washington Post combined? Obviously people don’t like The New York Times’ content.”
Listeners don’t doubt that Bongino believes what he says, said Doug Stafford, former chief of staff for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul who consulted for Bongino during his 2016 House race in Florida.
“He’s a good messenger,” said Stafford. “And it’s a principled message — it comes from a place of conviction. I think people hear that right away.”
A former New York City police officer, Bongino joined the Secret Service in 1999 and later served on protective duty for presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2012, he started a series of three unsuccessful runs for office, first for the U.S. Senate in Maryland (where he won the Republican nomination but lost to Democrat Ben Cardin with only 26.6 percent of the vote), and then for a Maryland congressional seat (where he lost again, by a narrow margin of 1.5 percent).
In 2015 Bongino and his family moved to Florida, where he said he had a “non-emergency family situation,” but added, bluntly, “I enjoy politics and there are certainly opportunities down there.” He ran in a primary in a district near his home against Francis Rooney, a local businessman who self-funded his campaign with more than $3 million. At one point, a POLITICO reporter and Bongino got into a phone argument over Bongino’s criticism of a news report, and Bongino went on a minutes-long recorded tirade, before shouting, “Go fuck yourself, you piece of shit!” and hanging up the phone.
Bongino lost again — but found a new niche. The shout-talking, Trump-loving ex-cop became a cable news guest perfectly suited for the Trump era, and he started appearing frequently. Soon he caught the attention of Trump himself, who started retweeting Bongino and praising him for his appearances.
Bongino landed a show on NRATV, the now-defunct digital streaming service affiliated with the pro-gun rights network, and made frequent guest appearances on Fox News, where he eventually became a contributor. He defended Trump-fueled conspiracies like Spygate, which contends that the Obama administration embedded an informant on Trump’s 2016 campaign for political purposes, and which became the subject of Bongino’s 2018 book.
Trump himself has become a repeat guest on Bongino’s show, as have Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani.
There, Giuliani made claims last week that the voting software used in some states, Dominion Voting Systems, is owned by a foreign company that has ties to both Venezuelan leaders and Democratic billionaire George Soros and that “flipped” some votes.
“We’re basically having our votes counted by Venezuelans who are close to Maduro,” Giuliani told Bongino.
“That’s insane,” Bongino replied. (Dominion has said it has no ownership ties to the other company, and U.S. cybersecurity authorities from the Homeland Security Department have said in a statement, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”)
Bongino’s show is not the only conservative podcast to catch fire since the election: Other podcasts including The Mark Levin Show and The Ben Shapiro Show have also seen their audiences rise significantly, to top-10 slots on Apple’s charts in recent days, Vulture reported.
“[Bongino’s] not an exception, he’s just the top of a larger trend,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the left-wing media watchdog group Media Matters for America.
Bongino has captured an audience online — boosted by his frequent appearances on Fox News — that is hungry for news of election fraud and a potential Trump victory, and the more engagement he gets, the more he’s rewarded by Facebook and other social media algorithms, Carusone said.
“Ultimately, it’s Facebook’s wave, and he’s just managing to stay above it,” Carusone said.
Indeed: Bongino’s posts were among the day’s 10 most-shared on Facebook at least 63 times in the last month, according to data collected by the analytics platform Crowdtangle and shared by The New York Times on Twitter. That’s more exposure than Trump, whose posts were ranked in the top 10 at least 31 times, and Fox News, who were top 10 at least 46 times.
Yet as Bongino’s show has grown in popularity, he is increasingly relying on websites and platforms he has an ownership stake in, giving him more control over his content and greater potential for profit.
Late last year, he launched Bongino Report, his alternative to Drudge Report, and he routinely posts his links on social media to drive to the site. This summer, he announced he’d become an investor in Parler, the right-wing social media site pitching itself as an alternative to Twitter or Facebook that has become a safe harbor for banned figures like far-right commentator Alex Jones. Bongino has formed a similar partnership with Rumble, a video platform trying to siphon traffic away from YouTube.
But the post-election boom has brought a whole new level of success for Bongino, if he can sustain it.
“We’ve always done well,” Bongino said. “And now we’ve been doing very well — it was really a banner week.”