Steve Bannon: Firing Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history
Bannon is prone to overstatement and this is no exception, but yeah, firing Comey was stupendously dumb. It achieved three bad outcomes for Trump. One: It deepened public suspicions about Russiagate. Two: It may end up being cited in court or in impeachment proceedings as evidence that he intended to obstruct justice on the Russia probe. (Admitting later that Comey’s conduct of the Russia investigation was a reason for firing him was also stupendously dumb.) Three: It led directly to the appointment of Bob Mueller as special counsel. *Maybe* Comey’s Russiagate investigation would have proceeded along the same lines as Mueller’s has, but Comey was directly accountable to the president. Mueller isn’t. And special counsels traditionally are more free to explore tangential wrongdoing in investigating a possible crime than traditional prosecutors are, as Ken Starr could tell you. Comey’s investigation probably would have hewed closely to Russia collusion; Mueller may end up investigating Trump’s finances before all of this is done. It’s amazing that Jared Kushner allegedly thought canning Comey was the right move. And don’t think Bannon, Kushner’s nemesis, isn’t enjoying the “told ya so” here at his expense.
Speaking of Bannon and big political mistakes, though:
President Donald Trump’s closest allies are planning a slate of primary challenges against Republican senators, potentially undermining the party’s prospects in 2018 and further inflaming tensions between GOP leaders and the White House.
The effort is being led by Steve Bannon, Trump’s bomb-throwing former chief strategist, who is launching an all-out war against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment. Bannon has begun holding private meetings with insurgent challengers, vowing his support. He’s coordinating with conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, who is prepared to pour millions of dollars into attacks on GOP incumbents. Bannon has also installed a confidant at an outside group that is expected to target Republican lawmakers and push the Trump agenda.
The activity has alarmed senior Republicans, who worry it will drain millions of dollars from the party’s coffers to take on Democrats in the general election.
The midterm environment looks bad for Republicans at the moment but they have two saving graces in the Senate, a very favorable map and the great advantage of incumbency. Bannon and Mercer bumping off people like Flake and Heller in the primaries would jeopardize that, handing Democrats a bunch of match-ups in the general election against little-known Republican insurgents. Question, though: From Bannon’s standpoint, is that really a political mistake? What’s the worst that could happen? The best-case scenario, obviously, is that the populists sweep to victory in the general after ousting RINOs in the primaries, ensuring a Trumpist nucleus in the Senate that could conceivably operate the way the Freedom Caucus does in the House. If, say, McConnell ends up with five diehard pro-Trump senators and a 52/48 Republican advantage, those diehards can name their terms. Nothing will pass without them even in reconciliation.
The worst-case scenario, supposedly, is that the populists win the primaries and then fall to Democrats in the general election. But that’s not a terrible outcome from Bannon’s perspective. Bannon, remember, is a nationalist and therefore comfortable with certain leftist policies. He’s allegedly supported raising taxes on the rich, a massive infrastructure bill, protectionist trade policies, regulating social-media leviathans as public utilities, and so on. Trump is often derided as a Democrat in Republican clothing but that’s true of Bannon to some extent too; he escapes that label mainly because his view of immigration, his bread-and-butter issue, is starkly opposed to Democrats’. Having Democratic majorities in Congress wouldn’t be an unmitigated disaster from his perspective *if* Trump’s recent bromance with Schumer produces some tangible policy wins. The great risk is that Mueller will turn up something incriminating that forces Dems towards impeachment, but if he doesn’t then Bannon’s agenda might do better with Schumer and Pelosi steering Congress than with Ryan and McConnell in charge. Knocking off establishment Republicans in the primaries would itself be a major victory for Bannon even if the seats eventually go to Democrats since it’ll serve notice to the Beltway GOP that populists are a force to be reckoned with. If you dream of replacing the current Republican membership in Congress with nationalists, as Bannon surely does, you’ve achieved something by beating the old guard in a primary regardless of what happens in the general.
The actual worst-case scenario for Bannon would be primarying Flake, Heller, et al — and losing. He’s been through that once before already when Breitbart got behind Paul Nehlen’s primary challenge to Paul Ryan in Wisconsin and Nehlen was utterly crushed. If Bannon tried to take out Flake and Heller and failed, it would signal to establishment Republicans that he’s all bark and no bite and that they needn’t take him seriously going forward. He backed a momentous populist upset when Dave Brat unseated Eric Cantor, but Brat was a longshot and Bannon little known outside conservative activist circles at the time. Now he’s nationally famous. If he dives into a race, he’ll be expected to make it close, at least.