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Will Bannon or the GOP Establishment Prevail? The Internal Fight Deepens

The fight against the protectionist and anti-globalist Steve Bannon is one worth having. As of now, Bannon and the Breitbart wing of the GOP appear to be winning, but there is mounting opposition to him within Republican circles.  GOP strategist Rick Wilson writes in  The Daily Beast:

Steve Bannon is like ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He's funded by billionaires, he has a shallow, catchy message that appeals to marginally-educated fanatics, and until the good guys start dropping JDAMs on his people, his skill at asymmetric warfare seems formidable. Right now, the good guys are grounded from fear and inertia.

But maybe they aren’t. A new GOP affiliated super-PAC has been formed, in a move that the Washington Post calls “open warfare” against Bannon on the part of Mitch McConnell. The paper’s writers explain:

More than a year ahead of the 2018 congressional contests, a ­super PAC aligned with McConnell (R-Ky.) revealed plans to attack Bannon personally as it works to protect GOP incumbents facing uphill primary fights. The effort reflects the growing concern of Republican lawmakers over the rise of anti-establishment forces and comes amid escalating frustration over President Trump’s conduct, which has prompted a handful of lawmakers to publicly criticize the president.

The problem is that both McConnell’s and Bannon’s allies claim that they are the true followers of Trump. From McConnell’s standpoint, Bannon’s decision to challenge GOP incumbents risks major Republican losses in the midterm elections, which, if they occur, would flip the House to the Democrats' side. McConnell must, therefore, support current incumbents and oppose the insurgents. When McConnell says he and Trump stand as one, Bannon and his supporters laugh heartedly -- knowing that it is their own faction that echoes Trump’s own tweets and arguments.

The new super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, is going about their attacks on Bannon in the wrong way. For example, instead of arguing for the importance and benefits of maintaining the post-World War II international order led by the United States and its allies, they seem content with only attacking Steve Bannon personally.

Perhaps they believe taking up such issues would be too difficult to do in short TV ad spots. Instead, as the Post reporters put it:

[T]he McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) will highlight Bannon’s hard-line populism and attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support. It will also boost candidates with traditional GOP profiles and excoriate those tied to Bannon, with plans to spend millions and launch a heavy social media presence in some states.

They are also claiming, as they did in recent tweets, that Steve Bannon is anti-Semitic.

For evidence, the SLF reproduced in a tweet the headline from an old article in the New York Daily News:

Anti-Semitic Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon not a big fan of ‘whiny brat’ Jews, ex-wife says

As everyone knows, there is no evidence that Bannon is personally anti-Semitic.

He has hired many Jews at Breitbart.com, including editor Joel Pollak, and offers solid support for Israel. Whatever his wife purportedly said in a highly contested divorce settlement hearing is hardly sound evidence that Bannon said what she reported. She also claimed, in a 2007 court statement, that he objected sending his daughters to the Archer private school, because of “the number of Jews that attend.” Nevertheless, the girls did go to this school, and Bannon has denied making any of these comments.

Even the Post reporters acknowledge that “Bannon has said repeatedly that his nationalist, populist vision includes a place for all races, sexual orientations and genders to succeed.” He said something similar in his recent Anaheim, California, speech.

What Bannon can rightfully be challenged on his is opening up Breitbart.com to the voices of the alt-right, which does include white nationalists, racists, and anti-Semites. That kind of political opportunism is fair game, especially when it legitimizes the rants of previously marginal figures. But using false claims to smear Bannon only helps his cause. Already one of his spokesmen has accused the PAC of “using left-wing talking points to attack Steve.”

Nevertheless, the president of the new SLF, Steven Law, is correct that especially in moderate non-Southern states, his real impact will be felt in general elections. That's where Bannon’s “well-documented, toxic views and alt-right paper trail could become a liability for candidates who are perceived as closely tied to him.” Now, even in Alabama, the contest between Judge Roy Moore and Doug Jones, the Democratic Party candidate, is extremely close.

Bannon’s supporters obviously believe they will prevail and that their cause is invincible. As Bannon put it in one of his speeches, which I write about in The Daily Beast, he thinks all of his candidates will win in challenges against the GOP establishment, and then they “will govern for 50 to 75 years.”

If you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.