On Steve Bannon, the GOP Establishment is Missing the Overall

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

By Reed Galen

Steve Bannon, the former presidential chief strategist and (once and) current chief of Breitbart News, has spent his first two months outside the White House running all over the country scaring the hell out of Establishment Republicans. Bannon’s first foray into electoral politics since leaving the West Wing pitted him against President Donald Trump in Alabama. There, firebrand Judge Roy Moore thrashed incumbent (and GOPe favorite) Luther Strange in the Republican primary to fill Attorney General Jeff Session’s Senate seat.

Not content to rest on his Gulf Shore laurels, Bannon put seven of the eight Republican incumbent Senators on notice that he’s coming for them in the 2018 primaries. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) got a pass: He’s been sufficiently humiliated to earn a free pass next spring.

Bannon is very clear about his intentions: He wants to destroy what’s left of the Old Republican Party and replace it, lock stock and barrel with his own brand of nationalist, nativist ugliness that will lack the ability to win but pass the purity test of angry GOP primary voters. During a press conference with President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted that winners make policy and losers go home.

This misses the point for two reasons: First, Bannon doesn’t care what kind of witch’s brew he cooks up to defeat Republican incumbents. He wants them gone. Even if he only takes out one or two incumbents, Bannon is two seats further ahead in his quest. He doesn’t need to put a US Senator in Washington. He only needs to make sure those he doesn’t like can’t go back.

Next, Republicans have been in control of Congress for the last eight years and in power with a Republican president since January. They’ve achieved no legislative victories to take home to conservatives (of any stripe.) The various Obamacare repeal efforts ended in failure. With fractured conferences in both houses, tax reform, already being characterized as better for the rich than anyone else, is a huge lift before the end of the year.

While Republicans in Washington claim not to worry about Bannon’s efforts, and call him all sorts of name to prove it, they’re spending an inordinate amount of time making sure you know they’re really not concerned. No, really, they’re not.

They should be. DC-based Republican officeholders are still playing with an outdated rulebook. Despite watching 15 largely acceptable presidential nominees fall to Donald Trump’s asymmetric political warfare last year, they’re still lining up like Red Coats, ready to be mown down by musket fire from the trees.

During an interview on NPR yesterday, the chief of the GOP Senate super PAC was extolling their fundraising numbers. The interviewer then asked about the group’s goals for 2018. His answer? To provide more reliable votes for Senator McConnell. While this has the advantage of being true, it also has the disadvantage of being the last thing on Earth any angry Republican primary voter wants to hear from a DC smart guy.

The interview also brings into stark relief the Republican Establishment’s biggest issue of the last decade: They are unwilling or unable to talk to their voters in a way that demonstrates an understanding of their circumstances. Pair this with policy positions that voters instinctively know aren’t really in their best interests and you have all the ingredients necessary for a Bannon-style romp through the primaries.

Not that Bannon, the Mercers or the alt-right provide any real solutions for the people on whom they’re counting to cause trouble next year. Their willingness to trade on long-standing resentment, utilize thinly-veiled racial messaging and invoke Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (or their legacies) on cue has the (unfortunate) benefit of being far more resonant than anything Republican Congressional leadership has been able to come up with.

Both sides, Bannon and the Establishment, will bring plenty of money to the fight the Republican Party, but Bannon has Breitbart, passion, numbers among primary voters and an “ends justify the means” mentality to political combat. He lacks scruples — and that gives him an advantage over the staid, respectable US Senators who’d prefer not to get their hands too dirty when fighting off opponents they’ll likely see as well beneath their contempt and attention.

Come January 2019 will there be any newly minted Republican senators from the Bannon wing? Difficult to say. Campaigns are not straight-line trajectories. If the Republican leadership in Washington can’t or won’t begin to meet voters where they are, they will not only lose seats in a mid-term election, they’ll likely lose what little grip that have on the GOP generally. If that happens, it really will be Donald Trump and Steve Bannon’s party, and the Establishment will cry if they want to.

Copyright 2017. Jedburghs, LLC.

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