Bannon wins when the GOP is divided — not Dems

Bannon wins when the GOP is divided — not Dems
© Greg Nash

Roy Moore’s victory over Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back MORE in Alabama was no fluke.

Despite Strange’s consistent support from President Trump, as well as significant spending from the Senate Leadership Fund, Judge Moore maintained a considerable lead in the polls over Sen. Strange since mid-August.

Indeed, Strange and the Senate Leadership Fund outspent Moore 10-to-1, but Moore’s anti-establishment, grassroots sensibility resonated strongly with voters.


To be sure, Strange entered the election as an uncharacteristically weak incumbent, lacking the advantage of having won the seat previously.


Strange had been appointed to the Senate seat earlier this year by disgraced former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in move that Breitbart News dubbed a “corrupt bargain.”

Meanwhile, Moore benefited immensely from the vigorous support of Stephen Bannon, Breitbart News, and the Republican Party’s populist base throughout the contentious primary campaign.

With these endorsements, Moore rode a very similar wave of anti-establishment, populist support to victory that propelled President Trump in 2016.

Despite the contentiousness and considerable spending, this loss for the Republican establishment is not beyond the imagination given the latest developments from Washington.

If anything, Strange’s loss underscores the new reality that has taken hold with Trump as the leader of the Republican Party.

The balance of power in Washington, particularly within the Republican Party, has fundamentally changed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPatient advocates launch drug pricing ad campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House MORE (R-Ky.) is no longer positioned as the most powerful and skillful Republican boss, who manages to uncannily influence elections nationwide in his favor and skillfully craft a juggernaut legislative agenda.

It was once a blessing to receive McConnell’s endorsement and that of the Senate Leadership Fund, yet today, such establishment bona fides may only lead to a candidate’s demise.

Going forward, the challenges observed in Alabama for McConnell and the Republican establishment will not soon disappear. In Congress, the Republicans have proved to be surprisingly inept leading a unified government and have failed to make any legislative progress.

As Breitbart Editor in Chief Alex Marlow put it this week, “despite their vast coffers of money…the establishment sees the writing on the wall.”

Within this vacuum of Republican leadership, and without any credible or effective challenge in the media sphere from the left, we are seeing Breitbart and Bannon becoming more and more effective, particularly as they, to quote Marlow, “aggressively pursue populist-nationalist conservatives that will run in primaries.”

Indeed, Alabama proved that Bannon and the media platform he controls arguably more influence over the most mobilized segments of the Republican base than the party’s establishment or the president himself does.

Clearly for Bannon, the most effective way for him to crystallize his populist, anti-globalist agenda outside of the White House is by backing candidates who can unseat establishment Republicans. Looking ahead to 2018, this will have serious implications for establishment Republicans facing populist primary challengers.

The ramifications of this shift in influence are already being felt in Republican strongholds beyond Alabama.

In Tennessee, Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong George Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump's name while criticizing policy Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE’s recent announcement that he will retire arguably given his fear of a tough primary challenger from the right demonstrates that establishment leaders are highly vulnerable.

Out west, the same dynamics are at play in Nevada and Arizona where Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong How to survive an impeachment Are Senate Republicans certain that Trump can return to office? MORE are facing difficult primary challenges from anti-establishment firebrands.

Should these challengers gain the Republican Party nomination in their respective races, the party’s chances in the November general election will put one or both Senate seats at risk and ultimately put Republican control of both houses of Congress at risk.

Outside the Republican Party, what does all of this mean for the Democrats?

A new poll in Alabama commissioned by Decision Desk HQ shows that former U.S. Attorney and Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones is less than 6 points behind Moore in the general election.

Similar to Jon Ossoff’s special election race earlier this year in Georgia, Jones’ competitiveness has led some on the left to believe that one of the deepest red seats in Congress could now be in play.

But without a coherent message from the party’s national leaders, Jones will find much difficulty in putting forward an alternative agenda.

More broadly, with Republicans fighting amongst themselves, the Democratic Party has a clear opportunity to persuade voters who have become dissatisfied with the Republican establishment and seek alternative policies.

Democrats must bear in mind though that accomplishing this requires a clear, compelling strategy to actually enact the policies voters desire, which happen to also be many of the policies Republicans led by McConnell have failed to deliver.

It seems clear however that Bannon will continue to benefit more from McConnell and the establishment’s failures than the Democrats in opposition.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant and pollster, he is also a Fox Newscontributor and the author of 11 books. His latest book is “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”