This week, Steve Bannon, former senior advisor to President Trump, demanded that Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE resign from the Senate. Bannon said that with the exception of Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSupreme Court appears divided over Cruz campaign finance challenge Democrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds O'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor MORE, all Republican senators up for reelection in 2018 could be on the receiving end of a populist primary challenge.
This demarche came on the heels of a tempestuous two days during which Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one-time Trump supporter, took dead aim at the president’s fitness to serve in the Oval Office, while the media was giddily reporting that Trump’s own aides were comparing their boss to a pressure cooker on the brink of explosion.
A two-term Republican senator from Tennessee, Corker is the first Republican to openly declare war on the head of the GOP, as he announced that Trump was leading the United States to World War III and shared the collective sentiment of his Senate colleagues that Trump is a slow-motion car wreck. For his insubordination, Corker has paid no political price and remains unlikely to do so.
Corker is not seeking reelection, so he cannot be primaried. As for his fellow Senate Republicans, they like Corker and will not strip him of his chairmanship. None have rushed to Trump’s defense. Beyond that, Corker is well positioned to wreak havoc on Trump’s legislative agenda, at a time when Trump is pushing for tax reform and seeking to undo the Iran nuclear deal.
But Corker is not the only one who can flex his muscles and alter the political landscape. These days, Bannon also shares that honor. Armed with the Mercer family’s money and an understanding that the Party of Lincoln has morphed into the white workers party, Bannon is poised to remake the GOP in his own image.
Bannon’s clout and appeal with the Republican base was on full display in Alabama, where his man, Roy Moore, beat Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Pandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE, the incumbent senator, for the party’s nomination in a runoff primary. The fact that Trump had endorsed Strange was almost meaningless.
While Alabama Republicans would gladly cast their lot for Trump in 2020, this year they were thinking and voting for themselves. In the end, Strange lost by almost 10 points, a landslide defeat, as he was pummeled by those Republicans who were armed with only a high school diploma or a degree from a community college.
Against this backdrop, the fight between Corker and Trump is a microcosm of the storm brewing within the Republican Party, one that pits the party’s traditional donor class against its actual voting base, and highlights the chasm between the two. Although members of the GOP loathe to talk about the divide, it is now staring them in the face and the numbers tell the story.
In 2012, two-thirds of Mitt Romney’s individual contributions came in the form of large donations. As for his backers, their top five employers were large banks: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, according to Open Secrets. Of Romney’s top five donor states, only Texas voted for him. At the same time, however, West Virginia was the state nearest to Wall Street that Romney won. As a practical matter, however, West Virginia may as well have been in a separate galaxy.
By contrast, small donors comprised an outsized portion of Trump’s campaign haul. In other words, Trump’s donors were his voters, and vice versa, and that nexus is not one that has escaped Bannon’s eyes. At Moore’s primary night party last month, Bannon hammered away at the fact that Moore was not graced by a deep bench of donors, and the reality is that Moore was outspent 10 to one.
Over the next 14 months, Corker stands to repeatedly stymie Trump. As a legislative body that relies upon consensus to function, a coalition of Democrats and renegade Republicans are poised to block Trump at every twist and turn. Yet that does not constitute party building, and for the moment it is Bannon who is keeping his eye on that prize.
Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.