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 McConnellThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week 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 TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem 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 StrangeState 'certificate of need' laws need to go GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama 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.

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"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 McCaskillGOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity 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 senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE's (R-Fla.) presidential campaign in 2016. "That stops tonight, for obvious reasons."