When President Donald Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon left the White House, we knew we hadn’t heard the last from him. According to CNN and Politico, Bannon has all but declared war on the GOP establishment.
According to Politico, Bannon and conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer are preparing to throw millions of dollars into attacks on incumbents. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed concern at the agenda, worried it will distract both attention and dollars from unseating Democrats in the next election. Why has Bannon decided to do that?
Bannon’s creating an anti-McConnell machine
Bloomberg reported that Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents for two reasons. He pledged support for candidates who agree to vote against McConnell as majority leader, and vote to end senators’ ability to block legislation by filibustering.
Bannon’s long game includes a bid to change Senate rules that currently require a 60-vote super-majority to end debate on most issues. That allows members to block votes by filibustering. It limits the power of the GOP’s current 52-vote majority in the chamber and has had real consequences for the party. In the past, it complicated the Senate’s ability to repeal Obamacare and legislators expect a similar effect on plans for tax legislation this year. Trump has repeatedly called for the Senate to change the rule.
At a September campaign rally in Alabama, Bannon signaled his intention to take on the Republican establishment. “Mitch McConnell and this permanent political class is the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country,” he said. He promised a “day of reckoning.”
Here’s everyone Bannon has targeted so far, and why.
Trump ‘pissed’ at Judge Roy Moore’s win
CNN reported that Bannon-backed former judge Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s Republican primary in a surprising upset. Emboldened by that victory, Bannon expanded his map of targets in the 2018 midterms and intensified his efforts to establish a donor network funding his slate of insurgent candidates.
Shortly after the win, Bannon started spreading rumors that GOP campaign strategist Jeff Roe used dirty tactics against Moore. He alleged that Roe worked with Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner to mislead Trump about the state of the race in Alabama in and around Trump’s endorsement of Strange.
Trump, who vocally backed Luther, felt “misled” and “pissed” by what he saw as a betrayal by Bannon. He later deleted a series of tweets supporting the losing candidate, replacing them with congratulations for Moore.
The next senator showed the gall to defy Trump.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake published an anti-Trump book
Bannon backed conservative former state senator Kelli Ward early on, Politico said. Strategists saw Mercer’s $300,000 contribution to a pro-Ward super PAC this summer as an indication of anti-establishment support for her campaign.
Flake, an outspoken critic of the president, recently published a book lamenting the rise of Trump. According to Slate, “Flake, in between voting for anything that Donald Trump wants, sometimes criticizes Trump’s tone. NPR said Flake was on shaky ground with Trump even before he published his book. Comments like ones accusing GOP leaders of making a “Faustian bargain” with Trump and abandoning their conservative principles, didn’t help.
“It might be that Bannon, an immigration hawk [to put it gently], is trying to exact revenge against Flake … for supporting the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that included ‘amnesty,’” Slate posited.
“The Senate leadership should take note of what has transpired in Alabama and end their dishonest attacks against me,” Ward said in a statement. “Our campaign has built incredible momentum and broad support across the state, and I am confident that any false personal attacks by forces in DC will be rejected by the citizens of Arizona.”
You’ll never believe who Bannon wants to elect in Wyoming.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso could fall to Blackwater founder
In Wyoming, Bannon has his eye on Erik Prince, according to The New York Times. The founder of security contractor Blackwater and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos traveled to Wyoming recently to look into establishing residency there.
Prince founded the private military company Blackwater in 1997. It fell under scrutiny when four of its members were convicted in 2007 of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Salon reported that the government has investigated Prince for money laundering and attempts to broker his mercenary services to foreign governments. According to the Intercept, he has been “working with a small cadre of loyalists — including a former South African commando, a former Australian air force pilot, and a lawyer with dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel … to secretly rebuild his private CIA and special operations enterprise by setting up foreign shell companies and offering paramilitary services.”
Why Barasso? “Taking on someone like Barrasso could be seen as Bannon’s test case — taking a shot at a random conservative with whom he and Trump have no particular beef, just to prove he can,” Salon said. “Installing an unstable radical in office is [Bannon’s] specialty, so he might just do it.”
The next senator failed a test no one should have to take.
Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer failed the October 8 test
A source close to Bannon told The Daily Beast that he intends to challenge Fisher. While the Bannon machine “haven’t found [a challenger] yet,” Fisher broke with the Trump camp at a crucial time. Fischer briefly un-endorsed Trump for president after the “pussy” tape emerged.
The day the Access Hollywood tape leaked became a longstanding loyalty test in Trump’s political orbit. It became known internally as the “Access Hollywood test” or the “October 8 test,” referring to the day The Washington Post first revealed the now infamous tape, on which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women because he’s “a star.”
Bannon anointed those who stuck by Trump during the recriminations. Those who broke rank ended up on his chopping block, which Fisher did. In the case, Bannon wants the seat more than the senator.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sits in a coveted spot
Hatch also defended Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals, or the Dreamer program, The Hill noted. “I’ve urged the president not to rescind DACA, an action that would further complicate a system in serious need of a permanent, legislative solution,” he said. A Catholic, Bannon also defended the program, on the curious platform that the church needs “illegal aliens to fill pews.”
“Like the president, I’ve long advocated for tougher enforcement of our existing immigration laws. But we also need a workable, permanent solution for individuals who entered our country unlawfully as children through no fault of their own and who have built their lives here,” he continued, adding, “That solution must come from Congress.”
The aim in Utah seems to rest not with Hatch himself, but with the seat. A source close to Bannon told CNN that even if Hatch retires and Mitt Romney runs for his seat instead, Romney would become the top target in a primary. The next target seems like a good ol’ boy, at first.
Chris McDaniel may challenge this ‘gentleman’
Slate called Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker “a nice Southern gentleman who … has never said a cross word against the president or challenged him in anything approaching a meaningful way.” Slate suspects Wicker made the list because of Chris McDaniel, who wants another shot at governance. McDaniel, a far-right candidate who challenged Mississippi’s other senator, Thad Cochran, in 2014.
While McDaniel said “A definite decision has not been made,” he has kept in touch with Bannon. “But [what] we do know is that we’re preparing for anything at this stage. And we have a lot of good friends out there in Mississippi and our base from 2014. They still feel like that race was stolen from us.”
The next politician filed one wrong vote that may cost him his career.
Nevada Senator Dean Heller might get repealed and replaced
Bannon recently met with Danny Tarkanian, the Republican opposing Heller in Nevada. That incumbent faces a stiff Democratic challenge in next year’s primary. An August poll showed Heller already trailing Tarkanian, with more than half of primary voters saying they wanted someone other than the incumbent. Tarkanian has pointed out Heller’s decision not to endorse Trump last year. He told McClatchy he thinks that cost the president a victory in Nevada.
Heller tried to stop the bleeding with the conservative base after coming out against the GOP’s first plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, NPR reported. He has vocally supported subsequent efforts to repeal Obamacare.
Politico confirmed a 30-minute meeting in which Bannon made it clear that Tarkanian had his full backing. That’s not the only meeting Bannon scheduled recently.
But wait, there’s more…
In many open races or contests to choose challengers to incumbent Democrats, Bannon apparently intends to identify a true conservative or populist favorite. Those may include Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, and if John McCain has to leave his seat before 2018, Paul Gosar in Arizona, according to New York Magazine. Bannon also plans to get involved in the primaries in West Virginia and Missouri, two of Republicans’ top opportunities to pick off Democratic-held seats next year. While those races could take time to develop, Bannon has his eye on them.
Whatever happens, Bannon plans to go into primary season guns blazing. “We’re going to war,” Bannon told Politico. “This is not a pillow fight, this is a fight fight.”