Eh, by this logic it was wrong for tea partiers to primary establishment Republicans in 2009-10. Every insurgent political movement answers this question the same way: “We can’t fight the enemy effectively until we install better generals of our own.” And every time, that answer is disingenuous. It’s not about appointing better generals to defeat the other side. That’s salesmanship. It’s about an ideological takeover of your own side. It’s a coup.
Still, it’s enjoyable watching Newt turn the logic of 2016 against Trump’s former chief strategist. The argument to Never Trumpers last fall was that it’s fine to have doubts about Trump but in the end defeating Democrats is the only thing that matters. Well, says Gingrich, the GOP has lots of plum opportunities to do that next year. Why waste time and money in the primaries trying to bump off literally every Republican incumbent except Ted Cruz instead of focusing on the many red-state Democrats who are ripe for the picking?
Bannon’s entry into the Arizona race on behalf of Kelli Ward, of all people, is especially baffling:
Steve Bannon on Tuesday rallied Arizona’s conservative grass-roots activists on behalf of Kelli Ward’s insurgent Republican campaign against GOP incumbent Sen. Jeff Flake. It was the biggest indicator to date that the allies of President Donald Trump are settling on Ward as their preferred challenger to Flake.
Bannon, Trump’s controversial former White House strategist and the man many credit with his unlikely victory in the presidential race, ripped Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and vowed that the Republican elite are destined to “reap the whirlwind” and “that whirlwind is Kelli Ward.”
Ward is seen as sufficiently fringy even within the White House that Trump was left trying to recruit a more mainstream challenger to his nemesis, Jeff Flake. Either she’s built up enough momentum that it’s too late for the other contenders to jump in now or those other contenders all passed on running for their own reasons — which would be surprising, given how vulnerable Flake is. Bannon himself was reportedly hunting around for an alternative to Ward before taking the plunge yesterday. Flake’s polling in Arizona is so poor that it’s entirely plausible that Ward will win the primary; what’ll be harder and more threatening to Bannon will be defeating Dem Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in the general. Arizona’s a red state but not as red as it used to be and Ward won’t have the advantage of incumbency that Flake has. If Bannon and Ward bump off Flake only to fumble away the seat to Sinema, Newt will be back on Fox calling the primary effort ill-advised and self-defeating. Bannon’s only defense will be that Flake probably would have lost to Sinema too. Probably.
Gingrich ends up making the same point I’ve made about the Bannon push: In the end, for all the grumbling about Trump from the likes of Flake and Sasse, nearly the entire caucus votes with the president nearly all the time. Even Flake has been a reliable vote for Trump so far. The four “problem” senators, Collins, Murkowski, McCain, and Paul, aren’t up next fall so Bannon is left trying to whip up populist rage against a crowd of Republicans who are already doing pretty much everything they can do to rubber-stamp POTUS’s agenda. That’s what Newt doesn’t understand — if they’re voting the right way, why is it urgent to unseat them?
The answer, of course, is that Bannon isn’t interested in how they’re voting, he’s interested in turning the GOP into something like an American National Front. Gingrich is a conservative, Bannon is a nationalist. Gingrich is a Trumpist, Bannon is a populist. Newt’s happy if Trump is getting his agenda passed, Bannon’s happy if Trump is getting a *populist* agenda passed. In the end, I wonder if Bannon really considers Democrats “the enemy” as much as he does establishment Republicans. He’s closer to Democrats in important ways, supporting government stimulus, favoring tax hikes on the rich, and so on. If he can clear out some conservatives and moderates from the congressional GOP and replace them with nationalists, he’ll have a party that’s more to his liking on immigration *and* on fiscal issues.
Which is to say, Newt is treating this as some sort of family quarrel. It isn’t. It really is war, as Bannon always says. I hope Gingrich realizes which side he’s on.