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GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents

GOP senators call on Bannon, Trump to lay off incumbents
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Top Senate Republicans are firing back at Stephen Bannon amid reports that he is eyeing primary challenges to GOP incumbents who he believes haven't been supportive of President Trump, calling on both the president and his ousted chief strategist to leave elected Republicans alone. 

"I wish they would focus on Democrats instead of Republicans," Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynGOP sees path to hold Senate majority Cook moves Texas to 'toss-up' Biden pushes into Trump territory MORE (R-Texas) told reporters when asked about Bannon.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneBiden to campaign in Minnesota as GOP ups pressure in 'sleeper' state GOP sees path to hold Senate majority Ensuring more Americans have access to 5G technology MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, added that the potential primary threats could make it harder for Republicans to hold onto their thin 52-seat majority despite a favorable map in the 2018 midterm elections.

"It does [make it harder]. And it's not particularly productive. ... We ought to stay focused on the task at hand," he told reporters. 

Sources told CNN and Politico that Bannon and his allies are actively preparing for Republican primary challenges to several sitting senators, including Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump fights for battleground Arizona Flake cuts ad for Biden: 'Character' matters What a Biden administration should look like MORE (R-Ariz.). 

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Bannon, who returned to leading Breitbart News after exiting the White House last month, has signaled for months that he is willing to challenge GOP incumbents and punish congressional leadership for not being supportive of Trump’s agenda. 

And the president, who recently cut a budget deal with Democratic leadership, has frequently lashed out publicly at GOP senators, including Flake, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Has Congress captured Russia policy? MORE (Tenn.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' On The Money: Trump makes a late pitch on the economy | US economy records record GDP gains after historic COVID-19 drop | Pelosi eyes big COVID-19 deal in lame duck Lawmakers say infrastructure efforts are falling victim to deepening partisan divide MORE (Ky.).

Cornyn added that Trump and his allies would be "well-advised to focus on growing our number of Republicans in the Senate rather than diminishing it."

"The president's going to need as many friendly faces around here as he can get in order to get things done," he said. "I realize that bipartisanship is important, but he shouldn't mistake a smile for support when it really counts."

The threat of intraparty fighting has frustrated congressional leaders, who are eager to avoid a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some weak candidates defeated rivals from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections. 

McConnell has pledged that he and allied outside groups will spend money to help protect GOP incumbents running for reelection. 

“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” the majority leader said earlier this year.

Republicans face a largely favorable map heading into 2018, with Democrats defending roughly two dozen seats, including 10 in states Trump won in last year's presidential election.

Flake and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (Nev.) are the two Republican senators widely considered most vulnerable. 

Meanwhile, Corker and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) have yet to commit to running for reelection next year, and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins says systemic racism isn't 'a problem' in Maine Biden, Cunningham hold narrow leads in North Carolina: poll GOP sees path to hold Senate majority MORE (R-Maine) is eyeing a 2018 gubernatorial bid. 

Corker told reporters he has "no reason to believe" the administration would encourage a GOP primary challenger against him.