Steve Bannon: McConnell and Ryan are trying to "nullify" the 2016 election

Well, yes, although when you peel the flashy overstatement from what Bannon says, all he’s doing is acknowledging the familiar ideological split within the GOP. You have a populist base represented by a mostly conservative caucus in Congress and a president whose instincts trend strongly nationalist on some matters (e.g., trade) but not so strongly on others. That’s a recipe for a lot of unhappiness on all fronts. What Bannon’s getting at here with the “nullify” language is a party conundrum: Should Ryan and McConnell dutifully carry out Trump’s agenda or should they press their own and seek accommodation somehow with the White House? During the Obama years, it was commonplace on the right to hear that Congress owes the president nothing. They’re an independent branch whose members are responsible for representing the interests of local, not national, constituencies. Does that logic also apply during the Trump years? Ryan and McConnell got elected and reelected many times preaching free trade. By demanding that they throw that overboard and line up with Trump, Bannon’s trying to “nullify” their elections as much as they’re trying to nullify POTUS’s. This problem, of identifying what precisely the GOP’s “mandate” is, will drag on until the midterms at least and maybe for Trump’s entire term.

A question in the meantime: If Ryan and McConnell should be dancing to Trump’s tune rather than vice versa, why the hell does Trump keep farming out policy initiatives to Congress instead of taking the lead on them? Bannon’s complaining that he doesn’t like the music but it’s Trump who keeps inviting the congressional GOP to play him a song.

For his part, Trump has soured on the Republican congressional leadership in recent months, fuming to associates that they led him astray on their health care strategy, among other complaints.

The president has told those close to him that he regrets choosing to tackle the repeal and replace of Barack Obama’s health care law as his first legislative push. He has singled out Ryan for blame, saying the speaker assured him it would pass and instead handed him an early, humiliating failure, before ultimate House passage of a revived bill, according to three White House and outside advisers familiar with the conversations but not authorized to speak about them publicly.

It’s not the fact that he led with repealing ObamaCare that was his key mistake (although it was a major mistake if he now plans to try to reach out to Democrats), it’s that he let Ryan put together a highly unpopular conservative-ish bill that pared the expansion of Medicaid way back. Trump could have pushed a populist alternative, as some of his friends on the right encouraged him to do, but instead he sat back and waited to see what the House would deliver. His willingness to sign virtually anything in the name of getting ObamaCare off the table and moving on to tax reform was palpable. That was the House GOP’s first attempt at “nullifying” the election and Trump and Bannon played along. How come?

That’s the first clip. The second clip is Bannon claiming that Chris Christie ended up out of the administration because he was a fickle friend to Trump when the chips were down after the “Access Hollywood” tape. Okay, but Christie said in the days after the tape dropped that, although the language was indefensible, he still supported Trump because “this election is about bigger issues than just that.” He remained at the head of Trump’s transition team for a full month afterward, through Election Day, and was allegedly finally replaced because of the taint from Bridgegate and his mismanagement of the transition process, not because of his response to “Billy Bush weekend.” Christie also had a far more resolute enemy inside the White House than Bannon: He sent Jared Kushner’s father to prison when he was a U.S. Attorney, remember, and Kushner supposedly has never fully forgiven him for it. And in spite of all that, given the rate of turnover inside the White House and Christie’s impending semi-unemployment, it seems a cinch that he’ll end up on Team Trump eventually as an advisor or maybe even chief of staff. Rank disloyalty may suit Bannon’s narrative purposes but there are stronger explanations for Christie’s momentary freeze-out.