Republican civil war erupts anew

- Desember 13, 2017

Roy Moore's loss has the Bannon and McConnell wings of the GOP heaping blame on one another, with no signs of a resolution.

By ELIANA JOHNSON and ALEX ISENSTADT

  

Pict: Steve Bannon (pictured) is unbowed by Tuesday's loss, refusing to take any responsibility for ceding what looked like an impossible-to-lose seat in the Deep South. He has told associates that the Alabama results are a case study in Mitch McConnell’s malpractice. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama — far from settling the score between the McConnell and Bannon wings of the Republican Party — instead touched off another round of internecine GOP infighting over who’s to blame for the party's loss in one of the most conservative states in the country.

From the outset, the race served as a proxy war between the tight-lipped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a paragon of the party establishment, and Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who has dedicated himself to disrupting everything McConnell represents.

Now, both sides are blaming the other for Tuesday’s loss, with each painting the results as a case study in the other’s political ineptitude. Bannon has argued from the outset that Republican leaders have positioned themselves against the president, determined to thwart his agenda. But McConnell and his allies are using Tuesday’s results to tell the president — whom Bannon helped to cajole into the race on Moore’s behalf — that his former chief strategist is a political liability.

Jones’ victory “unmasked Steve Bannon's incompetence,” said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff and top political adviser. “What has been exposed here is that Steve Bannon has been the most harmful person to the Trump presidency in all of politics — Republican or Democrat.”

Karl Rove told Fox News that Bannon, despite the hype about his political genius, did little more in Alabama than rant and rave “about the so-called establishment in Washington. Not a winning message.”

Bannon, naturally, is unbowed, refusing to take any responsibility for ceding what looked like an impossible-to-lose seat in the Deep South. He has told associates that the Alabama results are a case study in McConnell’s malpractice.

“Team Mitch did everything in their power to endanger our majority in the Senate and threaten the passage of the Trump agenda by ensuring the outcome that we saw last night,” said Andy Surabian, a spokesman for Bannon, who went on to accuse the Senate majority leader of gloating “about the fact that the Republican nominee in Alabama was defeated.”

Prior to the election, McConnell told associates that he wanted to destroy Bannon politically, according to one person familiar with the Republican leader’s thinking. Their goal: to curtail his influence ahead of the 2018 midterms, in which Bannon has vowed to recruit candidates to knock off McConnell-backed incumbents.

Bannon is supporting Danny Tarkanian, who has vowed to unseat Nevada’s Republican senator, Dean Heller, as well as former New York congressman and ex-convict Michael Grimm, who is trying to recapture his old House seat.

McConnell hopes Tuesday’s outcome will put a dent in those efforts. His allies argue that Bannon is a charlatan — a man who has sold himself to the president as the guru of the Trump movement who possesses a preternatural understanding of the president’s political base only to drive the president into a ditch in Alabama.

“Bannon hurt Trump by giving him poor advice,” said Scott Reed, a political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The results in Alabama, Reed said, “hurt the Trump movement.”

The face-off over the Alabama race is the latest iteration of the bitter infighting that has dominated the Republican Party since the rise of the Tea Party in 2010, and that reached an apex last year with the election of Donald Trump, a Bannon-backed outsider loathed by politicians in both parties.

Trump’s victory did little to settle the debate over who controls in the GOP. In fact, the president now appears to be caught in a tug-of-war between McConnell and his establishment allies, some of whom urged him to endorse Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s Republican primary, and Bannon, who eventually convinced him to intervene on Moore’s behalf.

It was an appeal from Tennessee senator Bob Corker that ultimately convinced the president to campaign in Alabama on Strange’s behalf. Trump even placed a cold call to Ward Baker, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, before doing so. When Baker told Trump that Strange was, in fact, in real trouble, the president decided to intervene.

But he didn’t heed the same establishment voices, including his own political advisers, who urged him to stay out of the general election after Strange’s defeat. He also rejected private appeals both from his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who urged him to keep his distance from Moore.

That said, Bannon’s prods haven’t been siren calls for the president, either. Though he has continued to flout Republican leaders, feuding with McConnell publicly on his Twitter feed, he has also signaled that he will not join Bannon’s efforts to unseat several Senate incumbents, privately offering his support to Mississippi’s Bob Wicker, Wyoming’s John Barrasso, and Nebraska’s Deb Fischer.

Privately, Republicans on Wednesday conceded that both sides were to blame for the fiasco in Alabama. Though some Senate Republicans privately breathed a sigh of relief at Moore’s loss — few were eager to embrace him as a colleague — they also suggested that McConnell’s insistence on backing Strange, rather than popular Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, who also ran in the GOP primary, was shortsighted.

But in hidden corners of Washington, including at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republicans were quietly celebrating Moore’s defeat — itself a sign of a party in crisis and a president unlikely to come to the rescue. (Politico)

 

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