Fresh off his insurgent candidate’s big win in Alabama, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is making clear he is seeking retribution against fellow Republican campaign operatives who work against him.
“The populist movement is going to do a house cleaning of all those individuals that made a living off the conservative grassroots while stabbing them in the back,” a source familiar with Bannon’s thinking tells CNN.
Bannon is beginning that effort by trying to blackball GOP campaign strategist Jeff Roe, who worked for Sen. Luther Strange, who lost Tuesday’s primary to Roy Moore. Bannon is spreading the word that he believes Roe is responsible for dirty tactics against Moore, and alleging that Roe worked with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner to mislead Trump about the state of the race in Alabama in and around Trump’s endorsement of Strange.
Bannon and others backing Moore were horrified by Trump endorsing Strange, the candidate of the GOP establishment. Bannon and Kushner repeatedly clashed when the two were at the White House, with Bannon seeing Kushner as trying to moderate some of Trump’s conservative leanings.
But since Strange’s defeat, the President himself has told associates he feels “misled” “embarrassed” and “pissed” over backing Strange, only to see him lose big. Trump even deleted several tweets supporting Strange Tuesday night.
As for Roe, Bannon is even telling potential GOP candidates that he won’t meet with them if they hire Roe, a veteran strategist who managed Sen. Ted Cruz’ presidential campaign in 2016.
Contacted by CNN, Roe declined to comment on Bannon’s threats, but did note that his political consulting firm, Axiom, is already working for a large number of candidates on the ballot in 2018 – more than 50.
Recruiting insurgent candidates
Following his speech at Moore’s victory rally Tuesday night where Bannon credited “the people” with the victory, he vowed to help the populist wing of the GOP win other Senate battles in 2018.
To that end, he flew from Alabama to Colorado to begin recruiting western candidates to run against Republican incumbents. Bannon is exploring whether he can find a candidate other than Kelli Ward, seen by many on the right as flawed and unable to win, to challenge GOP incumbent Jeff Flake in Arizona.
Bannon also plans to head back down south to have meetings with those who may want to run in Tennessee for the seat Sen. Bob Corker announced he will vacate, and in Mississippi, to challenge sitting Republican Sen. Roger Wicker. Republicans regained control of the majority in the Senate in 2014 when Wicker was chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Chris McDaniel, a GOP insurgent candidate who failed to topple incumbent Thad Cochran in 2014, is all but sure to challenge Wicker this time around.
“Last night was a huge win for the conservative movement, a great awakening,” McDaniel said in a statement provided to CNN. Moore’s win in Alabama “makes the 2018 race more compelling,” he added.
“It’s a continuation of the energy we felt in 2014,” McDaniel said. “And when the establishment stole our race in Mississippi utilizing the most despicable dirty tricks imaginable, it was a wake-up call for thousands. The people of this country are disgusted with the DC establishment and politicians like Mitch McConnell, and we are demanding real change. We’ve had enough of their games, lies and cowardice,” said McDaniel.
Bannon met with McDaniel in Alabama this week, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
A McDaniel source tells CNN that Roe did some polling for McDaniel in advance of an official run this year, but will no longer work with Roe. Roe insists he was never working for McDaniel.
The ‘governing wing’ of the Republican party is starting to head for the exits