Trump feud puts pressure on Bannon candidates


President Trump’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. 

{mosads}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 Bannon 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., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “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 Clinton. 

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 Jenkins (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 Heller’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 Blackburn (Tenn.), who is running for the Senate seat left open by the retirement of frequent Breitbart target Sen. Bob Corker (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.

Tags Bob Corker Dean Heller Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr. Evan Jenkins Hillary Clinton Jared Kushner Marsha Blackburn Paul Manafort Steve Bannon

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