- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There was plenty of blame to go around as the Republican Party attempted to reconcile Tuesday’s painful election loss in deeply conservative Alabama, but most of the finger-pointing was directed at former White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon.

Rep. Peter T. King of New York called on fellow Republicans to dump him. Former White House press secretary Anthony Scaramucci told Bloomberg TV that Mr. Bannon “has to be defeated by the Republican Party and frankly [he] has to be defeated by America.”

A close ideological ally of President Trump, Mr. Bannon is leading a populist insurgency against the party’s Washington establishment and backing firebrand conservatives such as Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race.

But his anti-establishment crusade looked more like a political suicide mission after Mr. Moore knocked out the establishment’s — and Mr. Trump’s — pick of incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary and then suffered the humiliating general election defeat Tuesday in a state that had not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in a quarter century.

“The aura of Steve Bannon being some sort of invincible genius is destroyed here,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, a centrist Virginia Republican who quit Congress in 2008 because he was unhappy with the party’s rightward drift. “But I don’t think that stops him. I think he’ll still be a player.”

Indeed, Mr. Bannon is promoting Republican primary candidates in Senate races in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“The war inside the Republican Party is only going to get more vicious and more deadly and brutal moving forward,” said a source inside the Bannon camp.

Most of the blame for the Alabama loss, said Mr. Davis, rests with Mr. Moore, a divisive political figure long before accusations broke that in his 30s he dated teenage girls and made sexual advances on a 14-year-old.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican establishment deserve some of the blame for not wholeheartedly rallying behind Mr. Moore once he was the party’s nominees, Mr. Davis said.

The former lawmaker said Mr. Bannon also shares in the blame for running interference for a candidate who was “basically radioactive anywhere outside Alabama.”

On Tuesday, he proved himself radioactive in his home state as well.

“Politics is a team sport. You have some people that they all want to be team captains,” Mr. Davis said about the Republican Party. “You go to the line of scrimmage and the quarterback calls the play and somebody else wants to call a different play.”

Mr. Trump waited until a week before the election to endorse Mr. Moore, which was about the same time the Republican National Committee restored financial support that was withdrawn when the pedophile accusations surfaced in October.

A source close to Mr. Bannon acknowledged that the outcome in Alabama was a “tough loss” but accused the Republican establishment of inciting a civil war in the party by attempting to crush the conservative movement.

“The GOP establishment forces who withheld resources all could have made the difference. They now own every vote Doug Jones makes in the Senate and have demonstrated they do not care about the GOP majority but actually really just want to keep their gravy train going,” said the Bannon ally.

A major outrage for Mr. Bannon’s faction was a series of moves by Mr. McConnell and the Republican establishment to undermine primary races by Mr. Moore and Rep. Mo Brooks in favor of incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed by the governor to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions until the special election.

“The people across the country are rightfully mad at McConnell and his pack of losers who surround him,” said the source.

Still, political professionals are quick to note that the Republicans should not have to expend effort at all in Alabama, one of the most conservative states in the union. It would have been a cakewalk for any Republican other than Mr. Moore.

The difficulties faced by Mr. Moore, most prominently that he was unable to adequately answer accusations of pedophilia, also don’t apply to other races where Mr. Bannon is exerting his influence.

Danny Tarkanian, a Bannon-backed primary challenger to Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada, said the fight within the Republican Party started long before Mr. Bannon came along.

“There has been a battle within the Republican Party at least since 2010,” he said, referring to the rise of the tea party movement.

“When you have people like Mitch McConnell who says he will support any incumbent Senate candidate irrespective of whether they’ve done a good job and supported President Trump’s ‘America First’ policies or not, and then personally attacks challengers, I think that pours gasoline for the fire, and we are going to fight back as much as we have to,” Mr. Tarkanian said.

He said he welcomes Mr. Bannon’s assistance in the race and doesn’t see any reason that the outcome in Alabama would affect his run in Nevada.

Heller campaign spokesman Keith Schipper said the senator was completely on board with the Trump agenda, including the president’s initial decision on whom to back in Alabama.

“President Trump was right when he endorsed Luther Strange, and he was right again when he said today that we have to nominate Republicans who can win. Candidates like Roy Moore, Danny Tarkanian, and Sharron Angle cost us seats and embarrass our party,” Mr. Schipper said.

Ms. Angle is a tea party Republican who in 2010 ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign against then-Democratic leader Harry Reid, whom 2008-09 polling showed to be one of the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbents.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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