- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was left licking his wounds following one of the roughest days of his lengthy political career Tuesday, having failed on a third Obamacare repeal push and then watching his chosen candidate lose a GOP primary runoff in Alabama.

One activist called Mr. McConnell “toxic” while others said the GOP’s Senate maestro must come to grips with a party that’s leaving him behind.

Moore’s win cannot be overstated. It points toward a bloodbath for the establishment in 2018,” said Corey Stewart, a Republican who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia next year. “I think people are ready to toss the bums out, and it is obviously a huge victory for not just Roy Moore, but everyone who considers themselves anti-establishment.”

Mr. Moore emerged victorious from the Alabama primary, toppling Sen. Luther Strange, who had Mr. McConnell’s full backing in the race, including millions of dollars of assistance in ads from the Senate Leadership Fund.

Mr. Strange was also endorsed by President Trump, but both Mr. Strange and Mr. Moore have pledged fealty to this president’s agenda, making Mr. McConnell far more of a dividing line in the race.

“This was a referendum, straight up, on Mitch McConnell,” said Noel Fritsch, a GOP operative who has spent years working in the trenches on behalf of insurgent candidates, including Mr. Stewart and Mr. Moore. “We ran a campaign largely against Mitch McConnell. We said Mitch’s name more than we said Luther’s.”

Mr. Moore won by 9 percentage points, and now faces Democrat Doug Jones in December.

The GOP establishment said it will get behind Mr. Moore now, and Mr. McConnell insisted Tuesday night that he understands the displeasure voters were expressing with Washington.

“I share that frustration and believe that enacting the agenda the American people voted for last November requires us all to work together,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

“I think that is BS,” Mr. Stewart countered. “I think the establishment was shocked last night.”

Mr. McConnell’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but conservatives said the loss, coupled with his failure to deliver on the party’s promise of Obamacare repeal, leaves the majority leader weakened.

“Any current senator who wants to do right by his or her constituency must now seriously consider whether this leadership team can deliver on anything,” said David Bozell, president of ForAmerica.

If Mr. McConnell was Tuesday’s big political loser, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was perhaps the big winner.

Mr. Bannon, who has returned to Breitbart News Network, score a slew of headlines after slamming Mr. McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, at an election eve rally and warning GOP leaders that “your day of reckoning is coming.”

“I think Bannon is perhaps the most powerful political figure in the United States next to the president himself,” Mr. Stewart said. “He really encapsulates the anti-establishment, Trumpian movement. He was there from the beginning and he carries a lot of weight and a lot of respect from people who want to drain the swamp.”

Mr. Bannon has been recruiting populist candidates for primary challenges in 2018 and in recent weeks has met with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s primary challenger Danny Tarkanian, and Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is considering a bid against U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker.

He also met with Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green, a possible candidate for the seat that Sen. Bob Corker announced Tuesday that he will vacate at the end of his term — potentially leaving Mr. McConnell will one fewer ally on Capitol Hill.

“The MAGA coalition, the America First Folks, who elected Trump got some scalps yesterday — Corker quit and Mitch McConnell’s lapdog Luther Strange was totally rejected,” Mr. Fritsch said. “I think that in a year, or in 16 to 18 months, we will look back at this and people we recognize that the 26th was a watershed moment in American political history. This populist movement is just getting started.”

Other Republicans challenging incumbent GOP senators are hoping to ride the same dissatisfaction that carried Mr. Moore.

Kelli Ward, who is challenging Sen. Jeff Flake in Arizona, said she hopes Mr. McConnell learns a lesson from the Alabama race and urges the Senate Leadership Fund to redirect money away from the negative ads it has run against her and toward Republicans trying to flip control of Democratic seats.

Former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski said recent elections should be a signal to Washington.

“Anybody who has been tied to D.C. and the lack of ability to get things done in the first nine months is likely to be held accountable,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “For 30 years, Washington hasn’t been running right and what we have seen the first nine months of this administration is the obstinance of members of Congress to follow through on the president’s agenda, which is repeal and replace Obamacare, get tax reform done, get a transportation infrastructure bill done.”

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