The stunning defeat of President Trump’s chosen Senate candidate in Alabama on Tuesday amounted to a political lightning strike — setting the stage for a worsening Republican civil war that could have profound effects on next year’s midterm elections and undermine Trump’s clout with his core voters.
The GOP primary victory by conservative firebrand Roy Moore over Sen. Luther Strange could also produce a stampede of Republican retirements in the coming months and an energized swarm of challengers.
It marked yet another humiliation for the Washington-based Republican establishment, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose allies pumped millions of dollars into the race to prop up Strange and reassure his colleagues that they could survive the Trump era.
“If you’re an incumbent, you have to assume the wind is against you,” said consultant Tom Ingram, a longtime Corker adviser. “If you do run, you take nothing for granted and leave nothing on the table. You start out with one big strike against you: You’re an incumbent Republican senator.”
With Corker retiring, seven Senate Republicans are expected to run for reelection next year: Wicker, Heller, Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and John Barrasso (Wyo.).
For months, only three of them — Flake, Heller and Wicker — were widely seen as vulnerable to primary upsets. But in the wake of Alabama, GOP operatives are no longer ruling out an expanded map of targets for Bannon and his associates, such as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who stormed behind Moore’s candidacy to reassert her influence within the party.
“For Mitch McConnell and Ward Baker and Karl Rove and Steven Law, all the instruments that tried to destroy Judge Moore and his family, your day of reckoning is coming,” Bannon said Monday night at Moore’s election eve rally, listing the names of Republican operatives who are allied with McConnell and spent more than $10 million to boost Strange’s candidacy.
“They think you’re a pack of morons, they think you’re nothing but rubes, they have no interest at all in what you have to say, in what you have to think or what you want to do,” Bannon told the crowd.
“More and more Republicans may say I don’t want the hassle from the activists on the left and the Trump Republicans on the right,” said GOP consultant and Trump critic Rick Wilson. “There’ll be more who say, ‘I’ll hang up my spurs.’ ”
If we're getting more Roy Moore types and losing more Luther Strange types, it's a great day.
Bannon is on the march, for sure.