Steve Bannon has declared war on the establishment, but why should we care?
President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist plans to support primary challengers against incumbent Republican senators in the 2018 midterms, a move that has received plenty of media attention and responses from both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bannon fancies himself a kingmaker, but it’s unclear if he actually wields that power.
“When you want to talk about why there’s no repeal-and-replace, why there’s no tax cut, why there’s no tax reform, why there’s no infrastructure bill, you saw it right there,” Bannon said on Fox News’ “Hannity.” “McConnell and [Tennessee Sen. Bob] Corker and that entire clique — establishment, globalist clique — on Capitol Hill have to go.”
The senators in this “globalist clique” that Bannon is reportedly targeting are Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Bannon is back as the “executive chairman” of Breitbart, which regularly promotes the notion Bannon wields massive power over the conservative movement.
Lead stories on the website Saturday included: “Sebastian Gorka: Steve Bannon Like Obi-Wan Kenobi — ‘If You Strike Me Down Now, I Will Be More Powerful,'” and “Steve Bannon Declares ‘Season of War’ Against GOP Establishment.”
Breitbart isn’t the only place quick to hype Bannon’s influence. Mainstream outlets, who Bannon has regularly referred to as the “opposition party,” enjoy casting Bannon as the man behind Trump’s curtain. And while he wouldn’t want to admit it, the former White House aide has a very friendly relationship with the press.
“Very heavy leaker,” one Washington political reporter told The Daily Caller. Bannon declined to comment.
Breitbart is a large conservative news outlet, but does that make Bannon a kingmaker? If that’s the case, Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, Daily Caller co-founder Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh would be deciding primaries around the country.
Bannon isn’t like the Koch brothers, whom he frequently bashes, and won’t personally influence elections through spending money. Breitbart, however, is heavily funded by financier Robert Mercer, who Bannon reportedly met with to discuss the 2018 midterms. Notably, Bannon is not targeting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in his 2018 race, who enjoys the Mercers’ financial backing.
Mercer and his wife Diana have already donated $300,000 to a super PAC supporting Kelli Ward in her primary bid, backed by Bannon, against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. Friendly Breitbart articles supported Ward in her 2016 primary run against Sen. John McCain.
She lost that race.
So did Breitbart-backed Paul Nehlen in his 2016 fight against House Speaker Paul Ryan.
So did Breitbart-backed Chris McDaniel in his 2014 race against Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran.
One Bannon-backed candidate, however, recently notched a win.
During much of August and September, Breitbart went on the warpath against Alabama Republican Sen. Luther Strange in his failed primary bid against Roy Moore.
Breitbart backed Moore — while Trump supported Strange — and the press eagerly credited Bannon with the victory.
But Moore is a well-known political figure in Alabama, whose victory hardly needed the support of a conservative news outlet.
“Bannon didn’t get into this until it was very clear that Strange was not going to win,” one longtime Alabama Republican political operative told The Daily Caller. “I thought Luther was going to lose from the beginning. The principal reason was that it was just a bad campaign.”
“The Strange loss was not a result of Bannon.”
Bannon’s battle against Republican incumbent senators, however, continues and Trump responded to two questions before a cabinet meeting Monday about it.
“I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from,” Trump said, adding that Republicans have failed to repeal Obamacare.
Later that day, while standing next to Trump in the White House Rose Garden, McConnell was also asked about Bannon’s efforts.
“Our primary approach will be to support our incumbents and in open seats to seek to help nominate people who can actually win in November,” McConnell said. “That’s my approach. That’s the way you keep a governing majority.”
McConnell named four recent failed anti-establishment GOP candidates to make his case — including Todd Akin, who riffed on “legitimate rape” and Christine O’Donnell, whose past included witchcraft.
Moore has been leading Democratic candidate Doug Jones in the polls and Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. A Fox News poll out Tuesday night brought bad news for Moore, showing him tied with Jones at 42 percent, with 11 percent of voters undecided.
Moore is having trouble winning over moderate Republicans, according to an operative in the Yellowhammer state, thanks in part to the former state Supreme Court chief justice’s history of making naughty comments.
Moore referred to “reds and yellows” in a recent campaign speech, and once said he “didn’t know” if sodomy should be punished by death.
Another candidate backed by Bannon is Michael Grimm, who is seeking to retake his congressional seat in New York from fellow Republican Dan Donovan. Grimm lost his spot in Congress after pleading guilty to tax evasion. The former congressman has also admitted to hiring illegal immigrants and threatened to break a reporter in “half … like a boy.”
And the Arizona candidate Bannon perpetually pushes, Kelli Ward, has “blind ambition,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by two former Breitbart staffers who worked for her campaign.
Whether or not Bannon has the power to pick Republican leaders, the establishment will fight back.
“Creating a civil war inside the Republican Party may feel good,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity last week, adding, “But I think as a strategy, it is stunningly stupid. I’m just being really honest.”
WATCH MSNBC ANCHOR CALL BANNON “TRUMP’S HOMEBOY”:
STEVE BANNON MAY BE OVERRATED, BUT THIS IS PLAIN WRONG. WATCH HOW THE MEDIA HYPOTHESIZES BANNON IS UNDERGOING A SEX CHANGE OPERATION.
Peter Hasson contributed reporting.