Bannon pledges ‘season of war’ against GOP leaders
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon escalated his feud with the GOP establishment this week, taunting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in front of a group of social conservatives, and pledging to fund hard-right primary challengers to almost every Senate Republican up for re-election next year. “There’s a time and season for everything,” Bannon said in a speech at the Values Voter Summit, “and right now it’s a season of war against a GOP establishment.” The head of Breitbart News accused McConnell of blocking Trump’s economic nationalist agenda, and likened the Kentucky Republican to Julius Caesar— who was stabbed by a gang of his own senators. “Up on Capitol Hill, it’s the Ides of March,” Bannon said. “They’re just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus.”
President Trump aligned himself with both sides in the GOP’s brewing civil war. During a Cabinet meeting this week, he said he understood Bannon’s frustration because the Republicandominated Congress is “not getting the job done.” Hours later, he put on a show of solidarity with McConnell in an impromptu Rose Garden press conference. Trump said he would try to persuade Bannon to drop some of his primary challenges, and lauded his own relationship with McConnell ahead of a push for tax reform. “We are probably now, I think, as least as far as I’m concerned, closer than ever before,” the president said.
What the columnists said
The “Trumpian Anschluss” has begun, said Robert Kagan in The Washington Post. Bannon is masterminding the “peaceful takeover of a party too craven to fight back.” He has two conditions for his growing legion of crackpot candidates, who include a convicted fraudster and an alleged conspiracy theorist: They have to promise to end the filibuster, and to boot out McConnell as Senate leader. So what if these extremist candidates are unelectable in a general election runoff against a Democrat? The most important thing is to “drive out the resisters, the fingerwaggers, the losers.”
If Bannon is going “biblical,” it’s because McConnell pushed him into it, said Ned Ryun in TheHill.com. Republican leaders have spent the last seven years in the wilderness “fundraising with their wealthy elite donors,” instead of laying the groundwork for Obamacare repeal, tax reform, and other conservative policies. Give Bannon some credit, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. He’s simply taking advantage of “the void at the heart of the contemporary Republican Party, the vacuum that somebody, somehow, needs to fill.”
There’s another motive behind this insurrection, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. “Bannon seems to take the prospect of Trump’s removal seriously,” reportedly putting the chances of his impeachment at 70 percent. Impeachment requires a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate. Could Bannon be trying to pack Congress with lawmakers who will “blindly support Trump” when things go pear-shaped? He certainly seems set on punishing “any Republicans who might stand in Trump’s way.”