The only fitting reaction to the news that Steve Bannon intends to support primary challengers against Republican incumbents from sea to shining sea is a terrible, almost Teutonic sort of world-weariness. Bannon’s grand ambitions should inspire the same soul-deadening déjà vu, the existential exhaustion, with which Bill Murray’s weatherman greeted every morning in Punxsutawney, Penn. They should bring to mind both Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence and his warning that if you stare deep into the abyss, it stares into you. They should inspire a vision of the Republican Party as a wheel turning endlessly in darkness, with the illusion of movement but the light forever out of reach.
O.K., maybe that’s all a little much. But really, didn’t we just go through all this? It was just seven years ago that Republican incumbents were facing populist challengers who promised ideological revolution, just a little while ago that the establishment was losing primaries to a mix of true believers, opportunists and erstwhile witches. What Bannon is promising is what the Tea Party actually delivered, in a past recent enough to still feel like the present: a dramatic ideological shake-up, an end to D.C. business-as-usual, and the elevation of new leaders with a sweeping vision for a new G.O.P.