Following Roy Moore’s decisive win in Alabama earlier this week (something we covered here), Steve Bannon has predictably seized on the momentum vowing that it is only the beginning of his “war” against the Republican establishment. Per McClatchy:
“There’s a time and season for everything under heaven. And sometimes there’s a time for peace. And sometimes there’s a time for war,” he told a raucous, religious revival-style crowd packed into a barn.
“Yeah!” a woman yelled back.
“We’re not going to hug out our differences,” he continued. “We’re going to have to fight for our differences.”
With several seats opening up in the Senate in 2018, including Senator Bob Corker’s of Tennessee who recently announced his retirement, conservatives see no reason why they can’t beat out establishment Senators across the deep south.
The hard-right’s fight for total control of Donald Trump’s Washington is just getting started.
The victory of deeply conservative candidate Roy Moore in Tuesday’s hotly contested Alabama Senate primary has emboldened activists and potential candidates alike, threatening to set off a wave of tough GOP races and ushering in a new era of internecine Republican warfare that party leaders had hoped would end when they won control of the government.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a determining factor for a lot of Deep South states, no question,”said Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who lost a hugely controversial primary contest against Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014 but is considering another Senate primary run in 2018. “If Alabama can send a true conservative to Washington, and Texas can send a true conservative to Washington, so can Mississippi and Tennessee and Florida and other states.”
Of course, it’s not just the deep south. Arizona is also likely to draw a lot of attention from Bannon allies as Senator Jeff Flake, a consistent and vocal Trump Critic, is up for re-election and Senator John McCain is suffering from severe health issues which could result in another special election at any moment.
Led by Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, they sought to make the race a referendum on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has grown increasingly unpopular with the base. And they took Moore’s win as a sign that other incumbents will be vulnerable to the same kind of anti-Washington messaging, even though it’s the Republican Party that controls the White House, the House and the Senate.
“If you can defeat a guy like Luther Strange by simply tying him to Mitch McConnell, what does that mean for guys like Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, who are literally Never Trumpers, or a guy like Roger Wicker, who’s in Senate leadership?”said Andy Surabian, a senior adviser to Great America Alliance, a group with close ties to Bannon that supported Moore in Alabama. His comment was in reference to GOP senators from Arizona, Nevada and Mississippi. “I hope none of them have a long-term lease in Washington D.C.”
Arizona is an obvious next priority for many of these Trump-aligned activists and organizations.
There, Flake—a frequent and vocal Trump critic whom Trump has clashed with repeatedly—is already facing a primary challenge from Kelli Ward, who unsuccessfully primaried Sen. John McCain last cycle but this time around has received Twitter support from Trump. Pro-Ward efforts have been boosted by major Trump donor Robert Mercer, who is close to Bannon. Eric Beach, the co-chair of Great America Alliance who is also assisting Ward, devoted space to the race in a broader USA Today op-ed published after Alabama.
“Establishment, beware,” he wrote. “We’re coming for you in 2018.”
Meanwhile, Nevada also looks to be a target…
Some conservative activists have also turned their attention to the Nevada Senate race. Trump, as president, hasn’t been as critical of Heller as he has been of Flake, but some see an opportunity to highlight Heller’s past criticism of Trump from the 2016 campaign, something they expect will rile up a conservative base already miffed that Hillary Clinton won Nevada (though Heller said last month—close to a year after the election—that he did vote for Trump).
On Tuesday night, Heller’s primary challenger, Danny Tarkanian, tweeted his congratulations to Moore and added: “Primary voters showed they’ll drain the swamp across country.” In an interview with McClatchy ahead of the election, he argued that Heller would be in a weaker position with the staunchly pro-Trump GOP base than Strange was, because Strange embraced Trump.
“I haven’t seen that Luther Strange was a Never Trumper, that he did anything against Trump,” said Tarkanian, who has run for office multiple times before but met with Bannon recently. “On the contrary, Heller was one of the first Never Trumpers in Nevada. He cost Trump the election in Nevada.”
And while it’s impossible to predict how these various races will play out, it seems fairly certain that 2018 won’t be a predictable and/or tame off-year election season.