Trump feud puts pressure on Bannon candidates

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE’s explosive feud with former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon has put new pressure on GOP candidates aligned with Bannon.

For Republicans running in the 2018 primaries, winning Bannon’s backing once looked like a valuable signal to Republican primary voters that a candidate was ideologically aligned with the president.

But tensions between Trump and Bannon broke into the open Wednesday with the publication of critical quotes from Bannon in a new book, prompting Trump to respond with a blistering statement of his own. Now, electoral ties to Bannon suddenly look more complicated. 

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That put new pressure on candidates Bannon has backed, raising the question of whether they’ll distance themselves from Breitbart News chief. 

“Any time you make your campaign personality-driven, you basically are ceding control to factors that you can’t control,” said one strategist working in a GOP primary race where Bannon has endorsed a candidate.

“Candidates who were using Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonHouse panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms Bannon: Italy’s coalition government ‘will change global politics’ Our policies on immigration should be forward-thinking MORE as a demonstration of their closeness with the administration now look like complete idiots.”

New excerpts from author Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” landed like a bomb in Washington on Wednesday. Wolff’s book will be released in full on Jan. 9

Among other explosive passages, Bannon is quoted calling the 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpCould President Trump's talk of a 'red wave' cause his supporters to stay home in midterms? Trump Jr. defends James Woods over Twitter lockout: 'The bias continues!' Goldstone regrets setting up Trump Tower meeting with Russians MORE, Trump's son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel signals Russia probe document dump before midterms Mueller investigating Russian payments made by Trump Tower meeting organizers: report The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil MORE and then-campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Ex-White House official revises statement to Mueller after Flynn guilty plea: report Former White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report MORE “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” 

Emails released by the Trump Jr. show a person involved in setting up the meeting offering information that could “incriminate” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2016 pollsters erred by not weighing education on state level, says political analyst Could President Trump's talk of a 'red wave' cause his supporters to stay home in midterms? Dem group targets Trump in M voter registration campaign: report MORE

As Trump and Bannon clashed, groups with close ties to Bannon backed Trump instead.

Great America Alliance, the super PAC that has operated as a vehicle for Bannon’s endorsement and sports a top Bannon ally as an adviser, issued a statement noting that Bannon and the group “did not always agree on candidates or issues.”

“Our top priority is supporting President Trump and advancing an America First agenda,” Ed Rollins, the group’s chairman, said in the statement. “Whether or not Bannon shares this priority, it won’t change our focus one bit.” 

Great America Alliance’s statement could provide some cover for endorsed candidates who don’t want to be tied to Bannon right now or seen as opposing Trump. 

At a Wednesday press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on the notion that the feud could divide Trump’s voters. She described the president’s base as “very solid.” 

“I don’t think it does anything to the president’s base. The base and the people that supported this president supported the president and his agenda,” Sanders said. “The president is still exactly who he was two years ago when he started out on the campaign trail.” 

Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsMore than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic Dem candidate denies W.Va. is racist for rejecting Obama MORE (R-W.Va.), who is facing Bannon-endorsed state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the GOP primary, became the first candidate to publicly seize on the feud.

“After Steve Bannon’s vicious attacks on President Trump and his family, Patrick Morrisey should immediately disavow Bannon’s support,” Jenkins said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“If he refuses, West Virginians will know that what President Trump said of Bannon today is also true of Morrisey: 'he is only in it for himself.'" 

In response to Jenkins’s statement, Morrisey’s campaign looked to take the focus off Bannon, while also criticizing Bannon’s remarks.

“Patrick Morrisey has been endorsed by many conservatives throughout West Virginia and America because of his strong conservative record,” Nachama Soloveichik, a Morrisey spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Attorney General Morrisey does not support these attacks on President Trump and his family.”

Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) pressed the opportunity as well, calling on Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson, who has been endorsed by Great America Alliance, to cut ties. 

“It was incredibly disappointing to learn of these vicious attacks by Bannon against the President and his family,” Vukmir’s campaign manager, Jess Ward, said in a statement. 

“After the Alabama debacle, and now this, any self-respecting Republican should question whether Steve Bannon has any role in building our party. Kevin Nicholson should disavow his endorsement.”

Brandon Moody, a spokesman with Nicholson’s campaign, told The Hill that Vukmir’s comments are “disappointing,” since they come after the candidates agreed to a party unity pledge. 

“Leah spent a great deal of time and energy seeking Steve Bannon’s endorsement and was unsuccessful. It’s easy to see why she is frustrated,” he said.

“Meanwhile, Kevin Nicholson has built a broad and diverse coalition of supporters and endorsers and he is focused on talking about the issues that matter most to Wisconsin voters.” 

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOvernight Health Care: GOP plays defense over pre-existing conditions | Groups furious over new Trump immigration proposal | Public health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children GOP plays defense on ObamaCare’s pre-existing conditions Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November MORE’s (R-Nev.) campaign responded to The Hill by chiding opponent Danny Tarkanian, who has come to Bannon’s defense in past controversies. 

“Danny Tarkanian and Steve Bannon are frauds whose only skill is losing elections and costing Republicans seats,” Heller spokesman Keith Schipper said.

Tarkanian issued a statement that stood by both the president and Bannon.

“I can understand why DC Dean Heller’s camp is giddy. They are desperate for any distraction that shifts the focus from the reason I got into this race in the first place: to give President Trump an ally in the Senate who he can depend on, and Nevadans a senator whose word they can trust," he said.

“I supported the president before he was elected; I support him now, I will continue to support him after the primary, and most importantly I will support him after I am elected," he said. "The same cannot be said about Mr. Heller. And if Mr. Bannon chooses to support me in our effort to repeal and replace Dean Heller with someone who will truly have the president’s back, I welcome his support.”

Bannon, through Great America Alliance, has also backed other candidates who will likely face similar questions. Former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward said in a statement that she remains committed to the Trump agenda and that Bannon “is only one of many high-profile endorsements.”

The group has also backed state auditor Matt Rosendale in Montana and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump questions Kavanaugh accuser's account | Accuser may testify Thursday | Midterm blame game begins The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly MORE (Tenn.), who is running for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of frequent Breitbart target Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters MORE (Tenn.).

One GOP strategist who has worked closely with Bannon admitted to The Hill that the flap could weaken the power of a Bannon endorsement, but cautioned about overestimating its impact on specific races.

“They lose the positive, and they lose some fundraising ability because he did bring some of that to the table,” the strategist said. 

“But it’s still a long time until some of these primaries, so you can’t draw too much of a conclusion." 

Updated 7:18 p.m.