McConnell allies see Moore loss as fatal blow for Bannon

McConnell allies see Moore loss as fatal blow for Bannon
© Greg Nash
Top allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ky.) see Tuesday's election results in Alabama as a deep — and possibly fatal — wound for Stephen Bannon, their arch-rival in the battle for the soul of the Republican Party.
 
Bannon, the former chief strategist in President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE's White House who left under pressure in August, enthusiastically campaigned for former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore even after public allegations that Moore pursued relationships with teenagers several decades ago. 
 
Moore lost the race for an open Senate seat on Tuesday to Democrat Doug Jones, the first time in a quarter century a Democrat had won a Senate seat in deep-red Alabama.
 
McConnell and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC controlled by one of his former chiefs of staff, backed outgoing Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump to GOP: I will carry you GOP strategist: Trump will be anchor around Republicans' necks in general election Trump: I ‘destroy' careers of Republicans who say bad things about me MORE (R), who lost a runoff to Moore in September.
 
Jones's victory means Republicans will control 51 seats in the Senate once he is sworn in. Democrats will hold 47 seats, while two independents caucus with Democrats.
 
McConnell allies could be expected to lament the loss, the narrowed Republican majority, and the now-real prospect that Democrats might seize control of the Senate in November's midterm elections.
 
Instead, some of McConnell's chief advisers used the results to skewer Bannon, who has openly advocated for primary challenges to incumbent Republicans who he says are blocking Trump's agenda.
 
"Before we get the results, I'd just like to thank Steve Bannon for showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union and Governor [Kay] Ivey for the opportunity to make this national embarrassment a reality," Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff, said in a tweet.
  

The Senate Leadership Fund used the loss to try to drive a wedge between Bannon and his patron, Trump.

ADVERTISEMENT
"This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running," Senate Leadership Fund CEO Steven Law, the former McConnell chief of staff, said in a statement. "Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco."
 
Privately, McConnell allies said they would use the results of Tuesday's special election to try to curb Bannon's influence over Republican primary voters. The advisers said donors who were once inclined to aid Bannon's chosen candidates would now refuse to write the checks needed to fund primary challenges to candidates favored by national Republicans.
 
"He's toxic, and the biggest danger to the Trump agenda," said Billy Piper, a lobbyist and another former McConnell chief of staff.
 
McConnell's spokesman declined to comment for this story.
 
Republicans running for Senate seats in other key states had once sought Bannon's endorsement. But his support for the critically damaged Moore, the McConnell advisers said, would make those candidates question the value — and the downsides — of Bannon's endorsement.
 
Virtually every Republican running for a Senate seat had been asked to weigh in on Moore, both over the accusations of improper behavior and over his more inflammatory stands, like statements that homosexual acts should be illegal or that Muslims should be barred from holding public office.
 
In Missouri, Attorney General Josh Hawley, the top Republican challenging Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillThe Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) Schumer to meet with Kavanaugh on Tuesday GOP leader criticizes Republican senators for not showing up to work MORE (D) next year, embodied the balancing act between placating the Bannon wing of the Republican Party while still appealing to the moderate voters he would need to oust the two-term Democrat next year.
 
Asked whether he would vote for Moore, Hawley declined to answer directly.
 
"I don't know what the truth is, but Judge Moore does. And I think that if these allegations are true, he should not be running. And he should step aside. And I also think that he should come forward at this point with evidence to exonerate himself, which he has not done," Hawley told reporters at a press conference Monday.
 
Now, Republican strategists hope, Hawley and other contenders will feel less bound to Bannon.
 
"Some Senate candidates and donors were flirting with Bannon," said Alex Conant, a longtime Republican strategist who worked for Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP looks to injure Nelson over Russia comments Rubio’s pro-family, conservative family leave policy promotes stability Dems make history in Tuesday's primaries MORE's (R-Fla.) presidential campaign in 2016. "That stops tonight, for obvious reasons."