Let us consider the unthinkable for liberal Democrats, principled conservatives and establishment Republicans: Is Stephen K. Bannon pursuing a hostile takeover of the Republican Party for the purpose of running for president to succeed President Trump?
Regarding the first part of the question, Bannon is undoubtedly trying to orchestrate a hostile takeover of the GOP, as Trump succeeded in orchestrating a hostile takeover of the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, through surges of voters in primaries supporting candidates who are neither classically conservative nor traditionally Republican.
A Bannon presidential candidacy could occur in 2020 if Trump leaves office before his term is concluded or if Trump decides for some reason to not run for a second term. A Bannon candidacy could occur in 2024 if Trump runs for a second term and is defeated, or if Trump is reelected and annoints Bannon as his successor.
Bannon is doing everything a presidential candidate would do:
- He is traveling around the country, cajoling ideological allies to run in primaries against traditional Republicans;
- mobilizing an insurgent grass-roots challenge to the dazed Republican power structure;
- attacking virtually every major Republican leader in Congress and the last Republican president;
- building a network of mega-donors who write massive checks to elect Republicans they support or defeat Republicans they oppose; and
- creating a substantial base of small donors.
Could Bannon ultimately be nominated as the GOP candidate for president? You bet he could. In the coming months, the political world will witness the first cannon fired in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination for 2020.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich continues to speak out forcefully against Trump and has reportedly begun meetings to discuss foreign policy and national security. Kasich could be the great challenger to Trump. If not Kasich, another prominent Republican will emerge; probably soon.
With Trump and Bannon waging a war for the political soul of the GOP, it is far from clear who will win the battle that is now unfolding. It is possible that Bannon-inspired challengers will be defeated in GOP primaries.
It is equally possible that the Bannon-inspired challengers will win these primaries, as the Alabama extremist Roy Moore won the recent nomination primary over the GOP establishment candidate for the Dec. 12 special election to fill the vacant Senate seat.
It is plausible that Bannon could win a future Republican presidential nomination. The Republican Party today has a serious intrinsic problem, with a potential base of primary voters who are far out of synch with the larger population of general election voters.
This creates a substantial danger for the GOP that the party could nominate candidates who are so extreme, after primary battles that are so bitterly divisive, that Democrats win huge victories in upcoming elections.
It is extraordinary to watch Bannon campaign around the country launching attacks against one Republican leader after another. He seeks to tear the GOP leadership down and replace it with Republicans who are more attuned to alt-right ideology than the GOP we know.
Bannon is waging a political war of mass destruction against the GOP establishment. He is waging an attempted hostile takeover of the GOP. It is an open question whether he cares if Republicans lose general elections in 2018, so long as his hostile takeover of the GOP succeeds.
The heirs to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan have good reason to be worried, frightened and alarmed. Make no mistake, they are.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.