Breaks with Trump
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The protracted isolation and eventual excision of Steve ... in Alabama showing a dead heat, Bannon is positioning himself to be the difference-maker. It works in his favor that the candidate he is supporting, Alabama … 34 minutes ago
Freshly removed from the White House, former chief strategist Steve Bannon is breaking with the President and supporting former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in the upcoming ... to rally conservatives to back …
The protracted isolation and eventual excision of Steve Bannon from the West Wing this month was a humbling moment for the populist-nationalist movement that he cultivated as executive chairman of Breitbart. The news site, which Bannon famously called “the platform for the alt-right,” seemed to have achieved a remarkable, unexpected victory with the election of Donald Trump last November. Bannon and Breitbart envisioned a swift global expansion, added veteran Wall Street Journal reporter John Carney, and aspired to take their movement mainstream. Eight months later, however, Bannon and his acolytes have been purged from the West Wing as the “globalists” shape policy from within. “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon told the Weekly Standard, shortly after his ouster. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency.”
Bannon, meanwhile, appears intent on picking up the battles he tried to wage in the White House, albeit more successfully now that he is unshackled by the constraints of the Trump West Wing. It’s not an accident that his first significant attempt to demonstrate his power and relevance outside of government is through a familiar mechanism: targeting the Republican mainstream. Specifically, he is attacking Luther Strange, the establishment supported Senate candidate who is facing a special election in Alabama. Politico captured the zeitgeist in a headline: “Bannon wages war against Trump-backed candidate in Alabama.”
Of course, Bannon isn’t targeting Trump, who has tweeted his support for Strange. Instead, he’s going after his old foe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s a return to form for Bannon, who first went to war with McConnell during the 2014 midterms—a battle I witnessed firsthand as a media consultant for Breitbart. It was also a particularly fruitful one. Before then, Breitbart had been more of a counterculture site than political-action network. But Bannon had bigger ambitions. In concert with the Tea Party, he aggressively launched an insurgent fusillade against the Republican establishment by supporting the primary Senate campaigns of Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, Dr. Milton Wolf in Kansas, and Joe Carr in Tennessee. Breitbart also supported Col. Rob Maness in Louisiana’s open Senate seat race, pitting him directly against the establishment-backed candidate and Congressman Dr. Bill Cassidy. Most notably, perhaps, he backed Matt Bevin against McConnell in Kentucky.
It was during this time that Steve Bannon, previously an unknown figure who worked in the background, was reborn as a political consultant. He formed an alliance with conservative figures like Jenny Beth Martin, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin, and Laura Ingraham in the hopes that their support would be enough to win one or two of these Senate races. Doing so would send a message to the Washington establishment that the Tea Party movement that had already swept Mike Lee and Ted Cruz into the Senate would be a force in determining the 2016 Republican nominee for president.
At the time, nothing was really expected from the Breitbart aligned campaigns. They were making a lot of noise and causing some headaches, sure, but they were not an electoral threat. This mind-set was bolstered by the thrashing that McConnell gave Bevin, besting him by more than 20 points in their May primary. McConnell’s landslide played nationally as an establishment beatdown of the Tea Party.Eric Cantor’s primary loss to the unknown conservative Dave Brat may have momentarily created a rush of optimism, but the establishment candidates subsequently ran the table that summer.
Nevertheless, Bannon and Breitbart were able to tout the Cantor defeat and the September resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House as proof that their platform had arrived. Of course, to them, this all foreshadowed what their ultimate victory: helping Trump win the Republican nomination, and then the presidency.
Now, fresh off his exit from the White House as Trump’s chief strategist, Bannon is on a mission to prove that he can be just as impactful outside of the White House as he ever was within it. He is returning to form and leveraging Breitbart’s platform to reshape his relationship with Trump. With the latest polls in Alabama showing a dead heat, Bannon is positioning himself to be the difference-maker. It works in his favor that the candidate he is supporting, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, isn’t backed officially by Trump.
Should Moore win, Bannon can say he did it all by himself, restoring some of the luster he enjoyed after the historic presidential campaign victory. In Bannon’s mind, he isn’t trying to hurt or take down Trump. Instead, he’s presumably trying to liberate him from the “West Wing Democrats” who have hijacked their president.
A loss however, would be a severe setback for Bannon and a clear illustration of his and Breitbart’s political limitations. For Trump, a Bannon loss would allow him to say that he and only he was the true architect of his victory and give credence to the narrative that Bannon was a supporting actor, not a co-lead.
More than at any other time, Bannon is putting a lot on the line. The payoff could be huge, but the downside could be fatal. It could also prove Steve’s words prophetic, “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”
Kurt Bardella is a political commentator and a former spokesman for Breitbart News, Joe Carr for Senate, Rob Maness for Senate, Rep. Darrell Issa, Sen. Olympia Snowe, and Rep. Brian Bilbray.