Is Steve Bannon to blame for Roy Moore?

Not really, no, but Bannon inspires fear and loathing in so many Republicans that the entirety of the non-Breitbart universe is dunking on him savagely this morning. Matt Drudge!

Peter King!

GOP operatives!

“Bannon is like so many people that get involved in politics. They work on their first race, their person wins, and they think people voted for them,” said Stu Stevens, the former top strategist to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. As part of his closing argument supporting Moore’s campaign, Bannon had made bashing Romney a rhetorical centerpiece…

“Steve Bannon has done more for Democrats than they could’ve ever thought possible,” said Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff. ”Bannon displayed an absolutely breathtaking display of political incompetence that will go down in the annals of history for every Republican to mourn for generations.”

Senate Republicans were probably up all night cackling over Moore’s defeat and Bannon’s spectacular mistake in supporting him. Incumbents’ main heat shield against populism is the suspicion that the sort of angry insurgent who might impress the Breitbart readership — Paul Nehlen, Roy Moore — will ultimately prove to be hip-deep in kookiness, to the point where the general electorate will run screaming from them and winnable seats will be lost. McConnell couldn’t have asked for a more terrifying example of that than a Christian warrior fumbling away a Senate seat in Alabama. Every Bannon-backed primary candidate will now be attacked as the next Roy Moore in the primaries. That’s why there’s so much dunking by establishmentarians today; they’re seizing the moment to try to convince Bannon fans that he’s leading them off a cliff. For fark’s sake, even the president has started grumbling about better quality control in choosing Republican nominees:

So it’s settled then. Moore is all Bannon’s fault, yes? Well … no, not really. The initial knock on Bannon vis-a-vis Moore was that he was *late* to the bandwagon, not early. Bannon didn’t endorse him until August 28, nearly two weeks after Moore and Luther Strange had advanced in the primary over Mo Brooks. By that point multiple polls showed Moore headed for a landslide win over Strange in the runoff. Bannon saw an easy victory for a populist candidate shaping up in the primary which might then be parlayed into an easy victory in the general due to Alabama’s heavy Republican lean — a rare opportunity for a Trump-style bombthrower to sail through to elected office with comparatively little difficulty. So Bannon jumped out in front of the parade. But Moore certainly would have defeated Strange if he hadn’t, and given Moore’s history on the bench of refusing to quit even when under tremendous pressure to do so, he almost certainly would have stuck it out instead of dropping out after WaPo broke the story about teenaged girls. It’s a convenient lie that Moore was some sort of populist Frankenstein built in the lab of evil genius Steve Bannon. He was a grassroots phenomenon. That’s a much harder problem to solve than Bannon is.

But Bannon does get some blame. He could have gotten behind Mo Brooks early, which may have landed Brooks in the runoff against either Moore or Strange. Brooks might easily have won that race with populist support and wouldn’t have been 1/100th as objectionable to centrist Republicans as Moore was. Plus, although Moore would have soldiered on after the scandal shoes started dropping no matter what, it’s an open question whether he would have been as successful in managing the crisis as he was without Bannon’s help. Bannon put his media savvy and his connections to work for Moore in helping him do damage control. Without that, if Moore’s polls had begun to crater soon after the WaPo expose, maybe the Alabama GOP would have replaced him as nominee. (Not likely. But maybe.)

But Bannon’s culpability goes beyond that. Yossi Gestetner has an interesting point here:

The only reason Doug Jones squeezed out a victory rather than running away with the seat is because Bannon (and Trump with a few tweets) supported Moore. Moore lost because Republicans including Alabama Senator Richard Shelby dumped on their own seat just to rightfully oppose Moore rather than saying “Moore is bad but vote on the GOP line to keep the seat in GOP hands and then we will remove him later.” For Republicans it would have been the moral and sane thing to do, but they did not do it. Hence the GOP lost a seat.

If Bannon had stayed on the sidelines, would Shelby have turned on Moore? Would McConnell and Flake and the rest of the Moore critics in the Senate have denounced him so loudly? As I said, establishmentarians are relishing Moore’s defeat not just on the merits, because he was an atrocious candidate, but because it’s a 2×4 upside the head of Bannon and his nascent movement to replace incumbents with populists. Bannon’s attachment to Moore gave McConnell and his allies a juicy opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Without Bannon in the mix, maybe they wouldn’t have been as motivated to do so.

But if we’re going to kick Bannon, this is the thing to kick him for. Jonah Goldberg:

Steve Bannon isn’t responsible for Roy Moore and neither is Mitch McConnell. The difference is that McConnell wanted nothing to do with Roy Moore for all the obvious reasons and Steve Bannon wanted to take credit for him! He wanted to take credit for Moore when it was clear Moore was a bigot, buffoon, and charlatan, and he wanted to take credit for Moore after Moore was credibly accused of being a child molester and jailbait fetishist. Bannon has an almost unblemished record of picking disastrous candidates on the theory that he knows what he’s doing. That theory is wrong.

With the exception of Trump alone, no one has done more than Steve Bannon to advance the idea within the modern GOP that good character not only isn’t important in a politician but constitutes an actual disability. “Character” in Bannonworld is code for cowardice. Once you adopt the #WAR framework for politics, “character” just means you’re afraid to lob a grenade at the enemy when men made of sterner stuff are out there bayoneting them with gusto. Bannon seems to gravitate to people like Trump, Moore, Nehlen, even Milo because he knows they’re willing to cross lines that others wouldn’t out of basic decency. That’s also why Bannon’s repeated insistence that he hates white nationalists, wants no part of them, etc, seems unconvincing to all sides, including white nationalists themselves. It’s completely out of character for him. Bannonism is “just win, baby, and don’t worry about morals.”

The sick irony of him backing Roy Moore, whose own spokesman admitted yesterday thinks homosexuality should “probably” be illegal, is that Andrew Breitbart was famously welcoming to gays interested in the GOP. Bannon’s under no obligation to follow AB’s politics, but him holding rallies for Moore after Andrew threw parties for gay conservatives at CPAC feels like the closing and opening chapters of the story of the GOP’s civic deterioration over the last six years. Especially since Americans generally have moved toward Andrew’s position over that time.

Anyway, a lot of other people deserve “blame” for Moore’s defeat besides Bannon. Doug Jones needed to pull an inside straight — massive Democratic turnout, including and especially among rural blacks; depressed turnout among Republicans who were disgusted by Moore; and just enough crossover or write-in votes on the right to deny Moore a winning margin. He hit all three marks. An astounding stat: Jones got 93.5 percent of Hillary’s vote total last while Moore managed just 49.8 percent of Trump’s. Jones won by a little more than 20,000 votes; the number of write-in votes, the vast majority of which surely came from Republicans, was 23,000. Alabama conservatives made their stand last night, as David French says. Republican voters will tolerate an extremely high garbage quotient in a candidate, it turns out, just not the infinite amount that Bannon wants them to.

Prepare now, though, for a battery of attacks on McConnell, the establishment, and “the elites” for having sunk Moore instead of laying the blame where it belongs, the fact that he’s an egregious crank and that there’s really nothing one can say or do to lose the Bannon endorsement as long as you’re willing to vote how he wants on trade deals. Populism can’t fail, it can only be failed by treacherous conspirators looking to exploit the people. A lot of lip service is paid to the idea of the GOP as “the party of personal responsibility,” yet between that Dolchstosslegende and Moore’s refusal to concede a race that’s obviously lost, it’s a joke.

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