Bannon can survive without Trump. I’m not sure he can survive without the Mercers.
True story: Two weeks ago, after I wrote this post about Vanity Fair claiming Bannon wanted to run for president, a friend in the know pinged me to tell me I had a basic fact wrong. Bannon could compete in the early primary states, I said, because he’d have Mercer money behind him. Nuh uh, said the friend. They’re done with him. It’s well known that Robert Mercer has severed his ties to Bannon and Breitbart but what wasn’t publicly known — yet — was that Rebekah was bailing on him too.
And now, two weeks later, lo and behold:
Bannon has in recent weeks also alienated his main financial backer, Rebekah Mercer, after he told several other major conservative donors that he would be able to count on the Mercers’ financial support should he run for president, a person familiar with the conversations said. The person said Mercer now does not plan to financially support Bannon’s future projects — and that she was frustrated by his moves in Alabama and some of his comments in the news media that seemed to stoke unnecessary fights.
A person close to Bannon said he was not running for president. Bannon and Mercer declined to comment through representatives.
“The core constituency for Breitbart is what you would call the Trump Deplorables. That’s the audience. And if they’re asked to choose between Steve and Trump, they’re going to choose Trump. That’s clear,” said a person familiar with the company’s ownership.
Right, he’s not running for president — if Trump runs for reelection. But one of the claims in the new Michael Wolff book, which has bubbled up elsewhere over the last few months, is that Bannon thinks it’s no sure thing that Trump will finish his term. He might be removed from office, whether via impeachment or the 25th Amendment, he might resign, or he might decide that a second term isn’t worth the bother. If Trump isn’t on the ballot then who’s going to represent populism in the GOP primaries against Mike Pence? “Bannon has also told friends he’d run for president in 2020 if Trump does not,” Axios claims today, echoing Vanity Fair’s report from late December. Wolff heard the same thing, possibly from Bannon himself:
Bannon, Wolff reports, has already assembled a “rump campaign operation” for 2020 and is telling people that Trump’s top 2016 backers—specifically Sheldon Adelson, Bob and Rebekah Mercer, Bernie Marcus and Peter Thiel—are now in Bannon’s corner as he travels the country meeting conservative leaders, to “kiss the ass and pay homage to all the gray-beards” as he sets the stage for “when I am president.”
Put yourself in Rebekah Mercer’s shoes. She spent millions getting Trump elected. She surely knows how it irritates Trump to have Bannon muscling in on his spotlight, now even to the extent of whispering to mutual friends about his interest in replacing Trump on the ballot if he doesn’t run. It’s one thing for Bannon to embarrass her and her family by flirting with white nationalists; obviously she’s already priced in that risk and found it acceptable. But it’s another thing for him to potentially damage her relationship with the president. By legitimizing Russiagate and talking smack about Kushner and Don Jr, he’s forced the Mercers into a “him or me” choice — with the president of the United States. Whom do you think they’ll choose?
Interestingly, Bannon enemy Matt Drudge is already writing his political obituary this morning. Note the cryptic second tweet.
Is … Drudge hinting that Bannon is on his way out at Breitbart? Former Breitbart spokesman (and now Breitbart enemy) Kurt Bardella’s hearing rumors too:
— Kurt Bardella (@kurtbardella) January 4, 2018
It would be some irony if Bannon, Trump’s former chief political advisor, lost his “killing machine” because he turned out to be the least pro-Trump guy there. In the end, even Breitbart may be more loyal to Trump (or to the Mercers’ money?) than to Bannon.
Here’s Dana Loesch, a Bannon enemy for years since she left Breitbart, shredding him this morning on Fox News. (How Fox’s coverage of Bannon changes or doesn’t change over the next days and weeks is a fascinating subplot to his feud with Trump.) Loesch is right about Bannon’s greatest skill: He’s an opportunist par excellence, a man who’s coat-tailed his way to ever greater heights politically by befriending and championing the populist hero du jour. First it was Andrew Breitbart himself, then Sarah Palin, then Ted Cruz, then he hit paydirt with Trump. He hopped aboard the Roy Moore bandwagon too during the Alabama primary runoff believing that Moore would win and his victory could be retconned as a triumph for Bannon-style populism. Having lost all of those people to tragedy, political irrelevance, or insufficient dedication to populist policy, go figure that he’s concluded the only man who can realize the Steve Bannon vision is Bannon himself. If he loses the Mercers, he’ll find some other well-heeled backer to bankroll the crusade, as Drudge wryly notes. He’s not licked yet, even if he’s wearing out his welcome at Breitbart.