Steve Bannon: "There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's"

A little taste from last night’s stemwinder to California Republicans. An LA Times reporter tried to capture the mood inside:

Attacking Bush is smart politics by Bannon, though, in all sorts of ways. It polishes his anti-establishment credentials; it endears him to Trump, who doubtless wants to attack Bush himself but is being counseled not to do so by advisors; and it speaks to legitimate grievances the GOP’s working-class has with Bush’s tenure. The Iraq debacle and Dubya’s fascination with amnesty were corrosive but Bannon hits him squarely here on trade too. With good reason, notes Reihan Salam:

Brad Setser, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and a former Obama administration official, has argued that had the Bush administration been willing to use the “special safeguards” provision that was part of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, the U.S. manufacturing sector might have been in a much better position to adapt to Chinese import competition. Instead, the Bush White House stood by as the Chinese engaged in large-scale currency intervention, which in turn made the so-called China shock—the job losses that followed from Chinese import surges—far more severe than it would have been had the U.S. sent a clear signal that it would counter such manipulation.

The former president had nothing to say about his role in the devastation of the Rust Belt. Instead, he treated the backlash against free trade as if it were some kind of mania, entirely disconnected from the fact that over the course of his presidency, the U.S. manufacturing sector hemorrhaged jobs, even as productivity outside of the computer and electronics industry was mostly stagnant. Needless to say, many voters who lived through the collapse of manufacturing employment backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and a small number of them then decided to vote for Trump, despite their misgivings about the man.

Salam’s conclusion: “No Bush, no Trump.” Absent Dubya’s failures, the GOP wouldn’t be in the grip of Trumpist populism today. That is a destructive legacy.

WaPo has an interesting piece out today noting that Trump and Bannon remain close despite the latter having left the White House two months ago. They still talk frequently, usually on Trump’s initiative, with Bannon allegedly describing himself to confidants as “the president’s wingman.” But that only deepens the mystery of this Politico piece from a few days ago. Just as Bannon’s gearing up for a national primary push against Republican incumbents, Trump’s getting ready to … go to war against him?

Trump dialed GOP Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, according to five people familiar with the calls. He promised to help the three senators against any insurgent challengers, one of these people said, and said he hoped they would be reelected.

The calls are expected to eventually be followed by formal endorsements, GOP senators said… Bannon has criticized both Fischer and Barrasso and has told people he would like state Sen. Chris McDaniel to beat Wicker.

Bannon’s reportedly looking to knock off all three notwithstanding Trump’s support for them. How does that square? It’s possible, I guess, that POTUS and Bannon will treat the primaries as a friendly competition, not unlike the Roy Moore/Luther Strange primary in Alabama. Bannon played that shrewdly by taking care not only to not criticize Trump but to frame Moore’s win as a testament to Trump’s own populist glory. If he plays it the same way against Fischer, Barrasso, and Wicker, presumably his alliance with Trump will remain intact. Imagine Trump’s embarrassment, though, if Bannon were to beat him in all three races after beating him with Moore. All the flattery in the world won’t soothe the bruised ego of a man who fancies himself the consummate winner.

Maybe … this is a sign that Trump has quietly convinced Bannon not to come after Fischer et al.? Or maybe Bannon doesn’t really *want* to go after literally every Republican incumbent (except Ted Cruz). Who could blame him? Even for a Mercer crony, resources aren’t infinite. He’s better off picking his battles and focusing on a few key races, like the challenge to Jeff Flake in Arizona, and trying to make a statement by winning those. Possibly he and President Deals will end up making a deal of their own: In exchange for Bannon laying off some incumbents who have been good soldiers in voting how Trump wants, Trump will scale back his support for incumbents in races where Bannon is heavily invested. Then Trump can tell the Republican establishment that he protected his loyalists and Bannon gets a clear shot at taking some Beltway scalps without any presidential obstruction. Win/win.