Bannon has a plan — and the establishment isn’t going to like it 

Bannon has a plan — and the establishment isn’t going to like it 
© Greg Nash

For Washington establishment politicians, lobbyists and journalists, Stephen Bannon’s crusade defies logic. Why would someone supposedly devoted to President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE’s agenda risk the Republican Senate majority by supporting nontraditional primary candidates seeking to unseat GOP senators who usually support what Trump is trying to do. 

Whether something seems logical depends on your starting point. And Bannon is operating in a whole different solar system — one that the establishment has yet to discover.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Ky.) and other GOP leaders begin with the assumption that the Republicans in power are worth keeping. They fail to understand that Bannon is seeking a wholesale reordering of the Republican power structure in Washington that reflects the change that has already occurred within the GOP electorate. A revolution has taken place, he believes, but somehow the czar and his ministers remain in the Winter Palace. 

“Our goal is to nominate people in the primaries next year who can actually win, and the people who win will be the ones who enact the president's agenda,” McConnell said recently, dismissively deriding Bannon and his allies as “this element” made up of a group of bumblers who accidentally elect Democrats.

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But what McConnell and the rest of the establishment still can’t seem to come to terms with is that it is this very “element” successfully elected a president.

 

I spent 10 hours talking with Bannon over the summer, both before and after he left the White House, for my book, “Bannon: Always the Rebel,” which was released Nov. 13. One of the things that became clear during our conversations is that Bannon believes the Republican Party has already been captured at its roots by Trump’s brand of nationalist populism, and that it’s only Washington’s political class and its house press corps that isn’t yet in on the secret. Trump, after all, decisively whipped a cadre of credible Washington establishment candidates who opposed him in the 2016 Republican primaries. If you want to get a sense of the tectonic plates that are moving beneath Washington, note that McConnell in an August poll had only an 18 percent approval rating in Kentucky — a state Trump won in 2016 by 30 points, with 62 percent of the vote.

“Populist nationalism is the winner of what we're doing now,” Bannon told me. “It is on the right side of history. The only debate going forward will be: Will it be [British Labor Party leader] Jeremy Corbyn’s and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection California Democrats face crisis of credibility after lawsuits Fox's Brit Hume fires back at Trump's criticism of the channel MORE’s views of populism or Donald Trump's view and [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi's view of populism — whether it will be a culturally right and economically conservative or whether it will be socialistic.”

The Republican Party leadership, for Bannon, is like a giant chicken whose head has been cut off but whose body continues to race around — aimlessly failing to pass ObamaCare repeal, for example — while the head too survives and continues to spout empty political rhetoric. Bannon’s mission is to remove McConnell, the still babbling chicken head, so that the GOP leadership reflects the new will of the Republican people.

Even if his candidates are not perfect political specimens and don’t all have consistent political philosophies, most of them have sworn to Bannon that they will vote to replace McConnell as leader. This is the essential precursor to making the Senate reflect the populist views of the Republican base. Moreover, as newly elected senators, they will be beholden to Trump — and Bannon.

Of course, unconventional candidates cannot be unsavory candidates. The preponderance of evidence now suggests that Republican Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, who was ardently backed by Bannon, may well have a sordid past abusing teenage girls. The Republican establishment will use this as Exhibit A in their argument that Bannon should not be choosing GOP Senate candidates. Bannon must quickly decide whether to acknowledge a problem he could not have foreseen and repudiate Moore. 

Within the murky depths of the Washington swamp that Trump ran against, there is nobody considered by Trump’s conservative base to be a more appalling swamp creature than McConnell. Ensconced in Washington as a senator since 1985 – after years of serving as a staffer in the city – McConnell has worked to sideline conservatives in Republican primaries and is viewed as too close to Washington’s myriad lobbyists and corporate interests. His failure to shepherd ObamaCare repeal to passage in the Senate this year probably ended any chance of him rebuilding his reputation among the GOP base.

It’s simple. You cannot change Washington if you do not change Washington.

For Bannon, even those who usually vote with Trump do so without the passion that ensures they are signed up long-term for the populist ideology Trump successfully ran on. Bannon recently pointed to a suggestion by Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerJeff Daniels blasts 'cowardice' of Senate Republicans against Trump Corker: 'I just don't' see path to challenge Trump in 2020 Ex-GOP Sen. Corker: Trump primary would be 'good thing for our country' MORE (R-Tenn.), a febrile Trump critic, that almost all Senate Republicans silently share his concerns about Trump. “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” Corker told The New York Times. So Trump needs a different crowd in the Senate, Bannon would have it.

Bannon is portrayed by Washington Republicans as some kind of political pyromaniac getting his kicks by lighting the Republican Party up in flames. In fact, what I found is that he has a well-thought-out plan to make the GOP a working-class party.

The new party’s every policy might not make perfect sense to economists and the corporate interests that animate the Republican establishment. But the new GOP will work to preserve and expand the middle and working classes, which Bannon believes are the soul of the nation, the basis of our economic wealth, and the most critical voting bloc. And that means stanching illegal immigration, limiting unfettered legal immigration, and opposing multilateral trade deals, an approach rejected by many in the GOP establishment and its corporate masters — as well as many traditional conservatives — but which Bannon believes is backed by the base.

“All policy should be oriented toward making the working people in this country and the middle class in this country's lives have a better shot at success,” Bannon told me. “And we've gotten away from that. What we've done is brought in huge global competition for their jobs, for their schools.”

Bannon has a plan. “The plan is all about economic issues with the working class,” he said. “We get that right, and we will govern for 50 years,” he said of the Republican Party. “That's all I'm focused on.” 

Keith Koffler is the editor of the website White House Dossier and the author of “Bannon: Always the Rebel,” which came out Nov. 13 and is available on Amazon.