The fight for an Alabama Senate seat is shaping up to be the first battle in a protracted war between Establishment Republicans and Steve Bannon, according to a new story in the Washington Post.
Incumbent Senator Luther Strange is headed to a primary election against former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, and the battle lines are drawn. Much of President Trump’s base – including Bannon and Breitbart News – is supporting Moore, who has gone as far as to call for Mitch McConnell’s resignation as Senate Majority Leader.
But the Establishment – including McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, and the Chamber of Commerce – is backing the incumbent in a bitter and expensive fight for the seat.
If “war” against the Republican establishment is what former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon wants, then war is what he will get.
Deep-pocketed supporters of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other GOP leaders have resolved to fight a protracted battle over the next year for the soul of the party in congressional primaries. “It’s shaping up to be McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund and the Chamber against Bannon,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “And we will take that fight.”
But the task will not be easy. Strategists from both sides of the party’s divide say recent focus groups and polling have shown that the frustration within the Republican base has only grown since the 2016 election, stoked by an inability to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health-care law. President Trump, meanwhile, has continued to cast his presidency in opposition to the current ways of Washington, which could encourage primary voters to buck the system in a way that endangers House and Senate incumbents.
In a move that has confused and irritated supporters, President Trump himself has thrown his support behind Strange. On Saturday, he said he would soon travel to Alabama to campaign on behalf of the incumbent – who won the seat through appointment after it was vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whether Trump really believes that Strange is the right man for the job or has taken the position as part of an inside-baseball deal with McConnell is a question yet to be answered. His supporters largely believe that Moore would be much more in tune with the president’s anti-establishment agenda.
The winner in the Alabama race could set the tone for the 2018 elections, where a whole host of incumbent Republicans will likely be challenged by insurgent conservatives. After failing to repeal and replace Obamacare and failing to fund Trump’s wall, Republicans could face a reckoning day when the primaries arrive.
The downside? The chaos could give Democrat challengers the opening they need to grab some otherwise-safe seats in the Senate.