As if being a Senator in the wake of Trump’s climate denial, immigration backlash, efforts to cut taxes for the rich, blatant nepotism, health care fiasco and insults to America’s traditional allies isn’t bad enough, a Civil War is brewing within the Republican party itself.
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon went public with his battle plans on CBS‘s “60 Minutes” on Sunday, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Breitbart editor has been busy for weeks recruiting ultra conservative Republican candidates to take on sitting Senators who the alt-right considers too liberal and not completely loyal to Trump.
That has clearly shocked and frightened Republican lawmakers from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on down.
Bannon, reports Politico, is “launching an all-out war against….McConnell and the Republican establishment.”
McConnell, in turn, has pledged that he and outside groups he supports will pour millions into efforts to protect Republican incumbent Senators.
“We intend to play in primaries if there’s a clear choice between someone who can win in November and someone who can’t,” McConnell said earlier this year, reports The Hill.
Republicans worry that the inter-party battles will drain millions of dollars that they want to use against Democrats in the general election, and threaten the party’s thin 52-to-48 seat margin in the Senate.
“I wish they would focus on Democrats instead of Republicans,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the number two Senate Republican, told reporters recently when asked about Bannon, according to The Hill.
While Republicans can raise millions, so can Bannon, who has the backing of Robert Mercer, the tech billionaire who, with his daughter, has played a powerful behind-the-scenes role in elections and in the early months of the Trump administration.
Mercer is said to be ready to pour in millions to unseat incumbents like Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada whom he and Bannon consider to be untrustworthy.
There is also the concern, harking back to 2010 and 2012, that alt-right or tea party challengers will excite the party’s conservative base, but then not provide enough votes or a broad enough agenda to win the general election.
“The issue is: Do you invest your time and energy in attacking people who are carrying this president’s water in Congress to the benefit of people who are trying to impeach him? That seems like an incredibly short-sighted strategy,” Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, told Politico.
The next big test will come September 26 when there is a special primary election in Alabama, which is considered a reliable Republican state.
Bannon has put his support, and that of Mercer and others, behind Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, who at this point has the lead in the polls.
McConnell is solidly behind Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat after Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s Attorney General.
At a Judicial Watch conference recently, Bannon said the Alabama primary would be “a defining battle between the conservative base and the GOP establishment,” reports Politico.
Trump has given his endorsement to Strange but done little to help him since August. That could be his usual passive-aggressive posturing which will allow him to say it isn’t his fault if Strange loses, but still, act happy if Strange wins.
Trump has been openly critical of McConnell in his comments and tweets for several months, blaming him for the health care vote debacle and the failure to push through Trump’s agenda even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress.
If Strange loses, however, it would be an embarrassment and black mark on McConnell, which could push even more big money supporters to look to Bannon for leadership.
Going into the 2018 primary season, in political lingo, the map looks good for Republicans, who do not have a lot of Senate seats up for re-election, and many are in states that Trump won.
However, a bloody primary battle could change all that and give Democrats a chance to unite around a single candidate who could beat any of the Republicans.
The Republicans would face a depleted war chest, ugly inter-party warfare and take a chance on angering the very voters they need by going over the top with their TV ad spending, especially the negative spots that can leave lingering scars even for a winner in the primary.
Trump has the loyalty of many Republicans simply because they are stuck with him.
If the president allows those Republicans who have put their careers on the line by voting for his healthcare bill or supporting him in other ways – only to face challenges because he won’t stop them from being taken on – that could leave long term rifts that may not even heal by 2020.
Now if only the Democrats can be smart enough to take advantage of this situation.