President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE is facing off with a surprise opponent in Alabama: his former White House chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.
Bannon and other Trump loyalists are coordinating a furious last-minute push for Roy Moore, the conservative running against Trump’s pick in the Republican primary for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE.
Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, is the grass-roots conservative candidate running against the establishment. He’s an outspoken critic of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) and the Washington “swamp” who drew controversy on Monday for talking about “reds and yellows” to refer to Asian-Americans and American Indians.
Breitbart News is squarely behind Moore.
With Bannon back in control of the conservative outlet after his White House ouster, Breitbart is sending Matthew Boyle, its top political reporter, across the state to cover the race ahead of Sept. 26, when voters head to the polls.
Former Breitbart national security editor Sebastian Gorka, who served as deputy assistant to Trump before being forced out of the White House, will campaign for Moore this weekend along with 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Their events are coordinated by the pro-Trump outside group Great America Alliance, which is acting as Bannon’s political arm.
Trump will visit Huntsville, Ala., on Saturday to campaign for Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE, the McConnell-backed Republican appointed to Sessions's seat earlier this year by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R).
He’ll thus be in Alabama to back the establishment candidate, pitting him against old supporters who once viewed the president as the ultimate anti-establishment politician.
Some conservatives are at wit's end in trying to figure out how Trump came to side with McConnell in Alabama.
"It’s clear Trump is getting bad advice from the Democrats in the West Wing,” said one Bannon ally, noting his decisions to send more troops to Afghanistan and the possible deal with Democrats on legislation to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive program, which allow immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as minors stay in the United States and apply for work permits.
“First Afghanistan, then DACA, now this? Trump really needs to reconsider his priorities and remember that it’s the forgotten man who sent him to Washington," the ally said. "The forgotten man supports Moore in Alabama, not Strange.”
Moore’s supporters in Alabama say Trump’s presence in the race will needlessly alienate the president from his own base of supporters at a time when many on the right are questioning the president’s commitment to the principles he campaigned on.
“Slowly but surely, Alabama voters are starting to figure out that the White House has taken a hard turn to the left,” said Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksWatchdog group seeks ethics probe over McCarthy's Jan. 6 comments Jan. 6 panel seeks records of those involved in 'Stop the Steal' rally Jan. 6 panel to ask for preservation of phone records of GOP lawmakers who participated in Trump rally: report MORE (R-Ala.), who ran for the Senate seat in the August primary but fell short of qualifying for the runoff.
“He has been losing [his base of supporters], and the question is whether that erosion continues, stops or reverses,” said Brooks, who has endorsed Moore.
Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) encouraged Trump to make the trip to Alabama when the two met at the White House on Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. Great America Alliance is sizing up primary challengers for Corker.
But Strange’s allies insist the president is campaigning for their candidate because of his relationship with Strange and the incumbent’s support for the Trump agenda.
On Saturday, Strange sent a text to Perry Hooper, Trump’s Alabama co-chairman, to let him know that Trump would appear at his rally. When Hooper congratulated Strange, the senator responded with two emoji — a thumbs up and a flexing arm.
“This is about loyalty ... this is about someone who is going to stand strong with the president, not someone with their own personal agenda,” Hooper told The Hill.
Trump’s appearance is critical for Strange, who has lagged behind Moore in most polls.
But Bannon isn’t backing down. In addition to the Palin events, Great America Alliance is also putting six figures behind a pro-Moore ad campaign that will run during the University of Alabama football game on Saturday as Trump stumps for Strange.
Supporters of Strange are eager to knock Bannon and voiced confidence that his backing of Moore in the face of Trump’s support for Strange will backfire.
“Luther Strange could win this race and there will be a whole lot of people asking why they were listening to Steve Bannon about a Senate race,” a Senate GOP aide supporting Strange told The Hill.
Allies of Bannon insist that the Trump-Bannon split over Moore isn’t indicative of a larger rift.
They note that other ardent Trump backers — including Palin, Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity and the Family Research Council — are backing Moore but remain reliable allies for the president.
Still, the race is only getting more contentious as the runoff nears.
“[Strange] will not be with Donald Trump, he will be another obstacle to Donald Trump just like Mitch McConnell is,” Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, told The Hill. “Mitch McConnell is putting millions of dollars into his campaign. If he was going to win, where would his loyalty be?"
Chris Pack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, which is aligned with McConnell and aims to reelect incumbents, responded that his group is “focused on ensuring that President Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions wins this race.”
“It’s a shame that the president has to fight members of his own party and not just liberals and the media,” Pack said.
Georgia Tea Party activist Debbie Dooley will be traveling to Alabama this week to knock on doors for Moore.
“Trump has been going against his base on a lot of things lately,” Dooley said. “I was a hardcore supporter of Trump, but I supported the Trump doctrine, not the Trump personality. He’s been listening to the wrong people and will find that out the hard way when Moore wins.”