Former chief White House strategist (and Breitbart boss) Steve Bannon is a revolutionary, not a reformer. So it stands to reason that his efforts to remake the GOP in a more nationalist image must begin with burning things down.
In case you missed it, Bannon, who is funded by conservative donor Robert Mercer, is reportedly “planning a slate of primary challenges against Republican senators, potentially undermining the party’s prospects in 2018 and further inflaming tensions between GOP leaders and the White House.”
The list of potential targets includes Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.
In Alabama, Bannon and Mercer are already backing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in the runoff election against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, endorsed by President Trump and Mitch McConnell. This seat is sure to stay Republican, but it amounts to swapping a guaranteed vote for the Republican agenda for a wild card in the volatile and controversial Moore.
The opportunity cost, though, is huge. A super PAC associated with McConnell reportedly spent $8 million just to ensure Strange made it to the runoff. There’s no telling how much more will be spent, or how much Bannon and Mercer might spend to counter them. Either way, we are talking about tens of millions of dollars that will not be spent to (a) defeat Democrats or (b) keep Democrats from defeating incumbent Republicans. This is a big deal. As NBC News’ Mark Murray observed, “Bannon’s civil war vs. GOP Senate incumbents could undercut the party’s one real 2018 advantage -- the Senate map.”
But even when Bannon isn’t specifically targeting Republicans, his impact can still be felt. The hostile work environment he and President Trump helped cultivate is leading establishment Republicans to self-deport.
Already, four moderate House Republicans have announced their retirements, and others are expected. At this point, it seems likely that Democrats will win at least some of these seats. Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is floating the idea of riding off into the sunset. (Corker is also rumored to be on Bannon’s target list.)
To understand why this is happening, it’s important to understand that Bannon views himself as a revolutionary, not as a conservative. The French Revolution did not seek to reform monarchists or priests, but to behead them.
A prudent reformer might seek to slowly change the party, without decimating it. After all, not all change is good, and toppling the establishment could involve replacing them with even worse people—as was the case with the French Revolution.
Bannon isn’t worried about such petty concerns. In Bannon’s world, chaos isn’t the enemy. It is, in fact, a necessary ingredient.
In his 60 Minutes interview, Bannon made it clear that his top priority is destroying the Republican establishment. This is a defensible goal. Groups like the Club for Growth attempted to remake the GOP in a more fiscally conservative manner by strategically backing conservative outsiders against establishment insiders who had a good shot of actually holding the seat.
Bannon is not prioritizing based on philosophy, but based on one’s status as an outsider. What is more, little consideration seems to be given for whether his actions could (inadvertently?) help Democrats take back Congress.
Bannon is not a stupid man, nor does he lack ambition. He may very well reason that America would be better off in the long term if establishment Republicans are replaced by Democrats. At the very least, this outcome would be a small price to pay for revolution. It might even be part of the plan. Anyone who is keen on toppling the institutions of the state shouldn’t fret too much about ousting a silly little political party from power.
This is what you would expect of a man who wants “to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
It’s almost as if Steve Bannon is trying to cost Republicans seats in next year’s midterm elections.
He has to destroy the party before he can save it.