GOP establishment are scared about the damage Stephen Bannon and his pro-Trump, pro-nationalist agenda allies will inflict on GOP incumbents seeking reelection in the 2018 midterms.
Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has been meeting with insurgent conservative candidates and is committed to making Breitbart News, which he returned to run after leaving the White House in August, a major player in the Republican primaries against candidates he views as insufficiently loyal to President Trump.
Bannon is also in discussions with the pro-Trump outside group Great America PAC – which has raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two years — about acting as his political arm in targeting Republicans seeking reelection in both the House and the Senate.
Mainstream Republicans are fretting over the havoc those forces could unleash as they seek to protect their majorities.
They’re worried that money raised by Great America, coupled with potentially significant investments in primary races from the Mercer family, which owns a portion of Breitbart, could sink one or two incumbents in primaries and hobble others enough that they lose winnable general election races to Democrats.
“The most important thing Republicans can do next year is expand our Senate majority by defeating vulnerable Democrats,” said Chris Pack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and aims to reelect incumbent Republicans.
“If we have to divert resources to defeat substandard candidates in GOP primaries, that will obviously make it harder for us to accomplish that goal.”
Breitbart has been running daily stories pumping former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in Alabama, who is leading incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary runoff there to serve the rest of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Senate term.
Bannon has spoken in-person with Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, who is challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada. He has also met with former state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party favorite in Mississippi, who is expected to jump into the race against Sen. Roger Wicker (R).
In Arizona, the patriarch of the Mercer family, billionaire GOP donor Robert Mercer, has poured $300,000 into a group supporting former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) against Sen. Jeff Flake (R). Several operatives from Great America PAC have also peeled off to join Ward’s campaign.
Bannon has had several conversations about primaries strategy with GOP operatives at Great America PAC, which counts Trump supporters like former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) as chairmen.
Andrew Surabian, Bannon’s political adviser, left the White House recently to join the group.
A source familiar with Great America’s plans says the conversations with Bannon are only in the preliminary stage but that they’re almost certain to involve the primaries in Alabama, Arizona and Nevada, where incumbent Sens. Strange, Flake and Heller are fighting for their political lives.
Great America is also scouting an opportunity in Tennessee, where Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has criticized Trump and has not committed to seeking reelection. There is hope among some Bannon allies that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) will run for Corker’s seat, either as a primary challenger or if he steps aside.
“If [GOP incumbents] think they can get away with cheap shots at Trump to score points with the media or with other lawmakers, they’ll quickly learn that there are consequences,” said one operative with knowledge of the group’s deliberations. “That’s the easiest way to get on our radar.”
Strategists with ties to the group concede that Bannon and Great America’s goals will not always align.
Bannon is eager to meet with virtually any challenger looking to take on an incumbent, while some at Great America are hesitant even to get involved in the Nevada race over fears that whichever candidate wins the primary will emerge too damaged for a general election race to defend what’s the most vulnerable Republican-held Senate seat on the ballot.
But for the most part, Bannon and Great America are on the same page and committed to defeating incumbents they believe don’t have Trump’s back — both in the House and in the Senate.
“You have to have people who support the president’s agenda,” said one operative aligned with Great America. “I’ve been trying to elect Republicans my whole life and I won’t just wholesale look to knock them out, but some of these members have just decided that they’re not going to back Trump.”
Some Republicans are frustrated by what they view as Bannon’s indiscriminate approach. Some, like Flake, have been openly hostile to Trump. But supporters of other senators, like Wicker in Mississippi, believe their only crime is running as an incumbent.
“That’s the problem with Bannon’s logic,” said Austin Barbour, a Mississippi-based strategist who managed Wicker’s first Senate campaign in 2008. “They don’t care if you vote with Trump 99.9 percent of the time or 58.9 percent of the time. If they don’t think you’re really with him, they want to beat you.”
Republicans interviewed by The Hill aren’t panicking yet about the primary challengers triumphing over the incumbents. Ward in Arizona, Tarkanian in Nevada and McDaniel in Mississippi have all run before and lost.
Some Republicans noted that Bannon doesn’t always deliver on his threats and that the Mercers have so far only opened their wallets for Ward. They’re more concerned about the chaos these groups could sow in the party.
“They don’t view their success in terms of wins or losses,” said one former hill aide with close ties to GOP leadership. “They’re happy just creating problems for people. It’s a game to them and it’s a disservice to the party. The goal should be to influence policy and not just create confusion and internal strife among Republicans. If I were [Senate Minority Leader] Charles Schumer, I’d be the first to write a check to that super PAC. Republicans should be very concerned.”
But others see the challengers represent a true primary threat to the incumbents. They say they will need money to beat back the challengers and precise political maneuvering to outlast them.
“Certainly they will make it more difficult for Republicans to win in November and hold the majority in 2018,” Barbour said. “That’s politics and Bannon and his groups are free to do that, but at some point you’d hope the Republican National Committee or the White House would step in and say we can’t stand for this anymore.”
The Cavalry Arrives in Alabama: Pro-Trump Forces Align Behind Judge Roy Moore as ‘Swamp Monster’ Luther Strange Suffers
The cavalry has arrived in Alabama. Literally.
The Great America Alliance, an organization that hosted a number of events backing President Donald Trump last year in his successful bid to defeat Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, is hitting the ground in Alabama with a bus tour for Judge Roy Moore and a series of events and television ads to back up the top conservative candidate. This development is yet another crushing blow to the failing campaign of Washington establishment-backed Luther Strange, who an ex-White House official from the Trump administration and campaign told Breitbart News is a “swamp monster” who must be “vanquished.”
In a press release announcing the bus tour and television ads, Andy Surabian—until a couple weeks ago a top Trump White House official who previously served in a senior Trump campaign position during last year’s election—lit into Strange and praised Moore.
“The momentum and enthusiasm is clearly on Judge Moore’s side as Alabama voters realize that ever since Senator Strange was appointed to his seat by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley, he has been more aligned with the special interests of the DC swamp than the interests of Alabama,” Surabian, who is now a Senior Adviser to the Great America Alliance, says in the release. “In order to truly drain the DC swamp, we must reject Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked yes-men in favor of those who truly back President Trump’s America First Agenda. Judge Moore has proven to be a fearless leader for Alabama and we are confident that he will never buckle in the fight to help President Trump Make America Great Again.”
The release also includes two new video advertisements, one of which exposes Strange for the swamp creature he is, and the other which praises Moore’s conservative accomplishments.
The one bashing Strange opens with video of the Capitol, and text on screen notes that Washington, D.C., was “built on a swamp.”
“Luther Strange is part of that swamp,” the next screen reads, with a photo of Strange.
The ad then cuts to video of disgraced former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley brazenly admitting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was involved in the appointment of Strange into the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) when he was appointed to lead the Justice Department. It is significant that this advertisement includes video of Bentley because Strange’s campaign woes are due in large part to how he was appointed into the Senate seat by Bentley in the first place. Strange was the attorney general of Alabama and was investigating Bentley for a corruption and sex scandal that eventually forced Bentley to resign. But Strange asked the Alabama legislature to hold off on impeachment proceedings, and then Bentley appointed Strange into the U.S. Senate seat—before Bentley ultimately resigned.
“I talked with Mitch McConnell,” Bentley says in the video. “And the first person that he actually mentioned was Luther Strange.”
The ad then cuts to a slide calling Strange “Big Time Lobbyist Luther Strange,” and then keeps playing audio of Bentley saying: “Luther is not a stranger in Washington.”
Strange was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for years.
The following slides in the ad note that Strange was “appointed by the swamp” and “disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley” and that Strange is “in the pocket of Mitch McConnell” and “not getting anything done for Alabama.”
“It’s time to Drain The Swamp,” the next slide reads, before the next one calls on Alabamians to “take your voice to Washington” and “vote for someone to represent you” and “on September 26th don’t let the swamp take over Alabama.”
WATCH GREAT AMERICA ALLIANCE’S FIRST ALABAMA AD:
The other ad, the pro-Moore one, starts with bobble heads of McConnell and Strange over the Capitol and a narrator saying “the D.C. Swamp will do and say anything to protect their own.”
“But Alabama is making their own choice,” the narrator continues, “choosing a history of military service, a record of fighting for conservative values, a dedication to standing up for Alabama. Judge Roy Moore isn’t the D.C. swamp’s choice. But he is Alabama’s choice.”
WATCH GREAT AMERICA ALLIANCE’S SECOND ALABAMA AD:
The new advertisements will originally run on a digital platform but are expected to—sources say—be followed by cable and broadcast buys on Alabama’s airwaves. The organization behind the ads has a history of putting its money where its mouth is, too, so the pro-Moore anti-Strange and anti-swamp effort will be well funded. “In 2016, the Great America PAC was the largest and most effective pro-Trump Super PAC, raising and deploying $30 million in support of the president’s candidacy,” the press release noted. “That same team now leads Great America Alliance, a 501(c)4 research and issue advocacy organization whose mission is to advocate for a stronger economy, a more secure nation, and a society with less government intrusion and more freedom for American citizens.”
But that’s not all the Great America Alliance is doing: They are also rolling out a statewide bus tour in the final days of the campaign, which is soon as election day is just two weeks away.
“The Alliance is also planning to barnstorm the state with a bus tour the final weekend of campaign, featuring high profile conservatives to rally grassroots support for Judge Moore,” the press release stated. At least one major nationally known conservative VIP is likely to join the tour, sources tell Breitbart News. Exact details and dates on the bus tour are forthcoming, they add.
Surabian, the ex-White House aide for President Trump who is now a senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, added in an exclusive quote for Breitbart News that Strange must be defeated for Americans to succeed in draining the swamp and achieving the Trump agenda.
“Big time lobbyist Luther Strange is the exact type of swamp monster that Trump supporters across the country and throughout Alabama want vanquished from Washington, D.C.,” Surabian told Breitbart News.
While President Trump endorsed Strange in the first round of voting before Aug. 15 in a multi-way GOP primary, he has essentially withdrawn his support for the lagging senator while Strange suffers badly in the polls and Moore towers over him with double digit leads in most polls. Strange has been desperate to get a hold of Trump, and drag the president into Alabama to bail him out, but it’s not even clear that would save Strange’s faltering campaign. Trump has not said anything publicly to back up Strange since the primary’s first round. He only endorsed Strange to beat back Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) in the first round of voting since Brooks said nasty things about him during the 2016 GOP presidential primaries when Brooks was supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) over Trump. Unlike Strange–who never supported President Trump–Brooks eventually came around and backed Trump in the general election.
Moore, on the other hand, was praised by Trump in a Tweet after the first round of voting–a Tweet that praised both Moore and Strange.
But then later in the day White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked the same question and she declined to say the president still supports Strange.
“Again, the President has liberties that I don’t, and legally I’m not allowed to comment on specific political elections that are ongoing. So I’m not going to weigh into that conversation,” Sanders said when asked about whether the president does in fact still support Strange.
It appears that Trump has, as Breitbart News and other outlets like the Washington Post have confirmed, withdrawn his support for Strange for now. With election day just two weeks away, and all the momentum behind Moore while Strange can’t catch a break anywhere despite all the money lined up behind him, that things are going from bad to worse for Strange.
Remember, it is up to us to vote these swamp rats out! Trump can not do it alone!
Sources: Breitbart, The Hill, Fox News, Washington Examiner.