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Breitbart charts path for 2018 midterm races
Roy Moore's insurgent victory in the Republican primary for a Senate seat in Alabama has Breitbart News and chairman Stephen Bannon expanding their target list in 2018, Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow told The Hill in a Wednesday interview.
Breitbart was squarely behind Moore in that contest, with Bannon acting as a campaign surrogate and speaking at Moore's rallies and victory party.
There is an urgency at Breitbart to capitalize on the grassroots energy that propelled Moore past incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) in a race that is being hailed on the right as a watershed moment in the fight against the GOP establishment.
"I think a lot of people's greatest fears about this movement and how powerful it is were confirmed yesterday," Marlow said.
"We see this race in Alabama as a confirmation of our values. We're in the early stages of a process in which we're seeing the Republican establishment lose influence and power despite their vast coffers of money. That's a trend that I think will continue. I think the establishment sees the writing on the wall."
Moore's victory was a blow to President Trump, who endorsed the incumbent. It was a bigger loss for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose allied super PAC burned through millions of dollars, only to see their candidate lose by nearly 10 points.
Now, Breitbart and Bannon will turn their attention to election fights in nearly a dozen other states, including Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Utah, West Virginia, Nebraska, Montana and Wisconsin.
Bannon has met personally with Danny Tarkanian, who is challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada, and Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel, who is mulling a challenge against Sen. Roger Wicker (R) in Mississippi. He has also been in contact with Kelli Ward's campaign in Arizona, where Sen. Jeff Flake (R) is a top target.
A source familiar with Bannon's plans told The Hill that he is "all in" for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), who is running in the Senate primary race against Rep. Evan Jenkins (R) for the right to take on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
And Bannon is intent on recruiting a primary challenge against Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a sign that no Republican incumbent is safe.
Bannon's allies were already seeking a primary challenger for Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) before he announced on Tuesday that he would not seek reelection.
"I think Corker backing out sends a strong signal that there are going to be people who say it's just not worth the fight," Marlow said.
In Utah, conservatives will be looking for someone to challenge either Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), if he seeks reelection, or 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who could jump into the race if Hatch retires.
And there will be plenty of opportunities for Breitbart to get behind "populist-nationalist" candidates in states where Democrats are defending seats.
While he was still White House chief strategist, Bannon met with Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale (R), who is challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D). Bannon has also met with Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R), who is challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D).
Sources stressed that no decisions have been made about backing either candidate, but the growing map is evidence of the scope of Breitbart's political ambitions.
"You can bet this movement will be invigorated to aggressively pursue populist-nationalist conservatives that will run in primaries," Marlow said. "I think in most of these instances, these are the types of people that will be nominated by the Republican Party."
In those states and more, Bannon and Breitbart will be looking to replicate Moore's Alabama victory, which saw a coalition of conservatives arrive as Moore's ground troops during the campaign's final weeks.
In addition to Bannon, 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin campaigned for Moore, as did former Breitbart editor and Trump aide Sebastian Gorka. There is an expectation that Palin will be more active politically in 2018 than she was during the last campaign cycle.
"Get ready for the return of Sarah Palin," Andy Surabian, who acted as Bannon's political adviser in the White House, told The Hill. "She will be at the forefront in the coming war with the establishment for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Few people have more sway with Republican voters than she does."
Surabian, who remains in close contact with Bannon, is now advising the pro-Trump outside group Great America Alliance, which coordinated rallies and ran ads for Moore.
Moore also got an assist from former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, one of the architects of the British referendum to leave the European Union, and the House Freedom Caucus, with an endorsement from Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). Meadows political adviser Wayne King was on the ground in Alabama, as was Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), another Freedom Caucus member.
Some in Bannon's orbit are calling this confluence of forces a new "media-political nexus" that they believe will be a force in 2018.
"There's a lot of synergy happening in the anti-establishment movement right now," Marlow said. "People are in sync."
Trump, meanwhile, was notably out of sync with his supporters in the Alabama race, backing Strange even as all of the energy on the right coalesced behind Moore.
To many on the right, it was the latest example of Trump losing touch with the grass-roots base that propelled his outsider campaign.
"He may have lost touch with his base to a certain degree," Marlow said. "But the base has not lost the connection with the values that Trump advocated on the campaign trail."
There is a concern on the right that White House chief of staff John Kelly has choked off the president's access to Breitbart News and other conservative outlets that once fed his instincts. Marlow described Kelly as a "standup American of peerless character" but said reports of Kelly's tighter grip on Trump's news consumption is a "major concern."
"If the stories are true, that he's not getting this information, then I think it's detrimental to the president, because the biggest advantage the president has is that he has better political instincts than anyone in the country," Marlow said. "If he's not allowed to have full information, how is he supposed to be able to use those instincts and assess the information and come to these conclusions that he comes to where he's been vindicated time and again?"
Still, Marlow stressed that the nationalist-populist movement espoused by Breitbart could flourish even without Trump.
"It's about values and ideas," he said. "It's not a cult of personality."
Ben Kamisar contributed to this report