Bannon's war against McConnell just lost its biggest battle

DOTHAN, Ala. — Steve Bannon insisted Monday night here at Roy Moore’s final rally before Alabama’s special election that Donald Trump’s policies, and his own, were of enormous benefit to people of color in America.

“[Trump] stopped mass illegal immigration. The No. 1 beneficiary of that is the Hispanic and black working class, because they don’t have to compete with illegal alien labor,” Bannon thundered. “Ethno-nationalism has got nothing to do with it, folks!”

It’s easy to get carried away in the heat of a campaign, but Bannon was indulging in an extreme flight of hubris, even for him, in trying to sell black voters on a candidate who had a long record of hostility to civil rights and who in September dated America’s greatest period to before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

Alabama’s black voters didn’t show much confusion about who they thought had their best interests in mind. Democrat Doug Jones got 96 percent of the African-American vote Tuesday, a point higher than President Barack Obama received when he won reelection in 2012.

Bannon’s power has always been more mirage than reality, and in taking on the entire Republican establishment, notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he was in way over his head. And after his humiliating pratfall Tuesday night, Bannon’s political enemies wasted no time in cleaving him from the herd, isolating President Trump from his increasingly toxic former associate.

36 PHOTOS
Scenes from inside Doug Jones and Roy Moore election night parties
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Scenes from inside Doug Jones and Roy Moore election night parties

A supporter of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones cries as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters celebrate after media began to call the election for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones, at his election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones greets supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore watch for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore hug as they watch results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 12: Alabama Democrat Doug Jones poses for a selfie as he celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Jones is faced off against Judge Roy Moore in a special election for Jeff Sessions' seat in the U.S. Senate. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore wait for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of democratic U.S. Senator candidate Doug Jones celebrate as Jones is declared the winner during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A supporter holds a sign at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A supporter holds up a "Bikers For Trump" sign as he attends Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

A supporter of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore prays after media began to call the election for rival candidate Democrat Doug Jones, at Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

A costumed supporter checks results on her phone at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

A supporter holds a sign during Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones' election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore watch for results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore hug as they watch results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

A supporter wearing a "Bikers For Trump" emblem on his hat attends Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

"Make America Great Again" hats lie on a table at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

Supporters pray during the invocation at Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore's election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. December 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore wait for polls results at an election night party in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Alabama voters were casting the last ballots Tuesday in a pivotal US Senate contest between a Republican dogged by accusations he once preyed on teenage girls and a Democrat seeking an upset win in a deeply conservative southern state.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

MONTGOMERY, AL - DECEMBER 12: A woman wears an 'I Voted' sticker as she awaits the arrival of Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore for his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters recite the Pledge of Allegiance as they await the arrival of Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore for his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Supporters react as results show a tight race between Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during his election night party in the RSA Activity Center on December 12, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in the special election for the U.S. Senate.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Democratic Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones acknowledges supporters at the election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
Attendees react to election results during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee uses her phone during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees pray during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees react to election results during an election night party for Roy Moore, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama, in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Democrat�Doug Jones�delivered a stunning upset defeat to Republican�Roy Moore�in a U.S. Senate race in deep-red Alabama that had split the GOP even before its controversial nominee was accused of inappropriate conduct with teenage girls. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 12: Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones (L) kisses his wife Louise Jones (R) during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama's U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Supporters of Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore sing gospel after election results show Moore lost, in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 12, 2017. Democrat Doug Jones scored a victory Tuesday in a fiercely contested US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a setback to US President Donald Trump, whose candidate could not overcome damaging sexual misconduct accusations. With 92 percent of precincts reporting, former prosecutor Jones secured 49.5 percent of the vote compared to Roy Moore's 48.8 percent, CNN and other networks reported. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 12: Democratic U.S. Senator elect Doug Jones greets supporters during his election night gathering the Sheraton Hotel on December 12, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doug Jones defeated his republican challenger Roy Moore to claim Alabama� U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions.�(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)� (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Bannon had “dragged” Trump “into his fiasco,” said one ally of McConnell, Steven Law, president of the conservative super-PAC American Crossroads. Another, McConnell’s former chief of staff Josh Holmes, showed his loyalty by praising the “perfect tone” of Trump’s response to the Alabama result.

By Wednesday morning, Trump was scrambling to align himself with McConnell, who had kept a discreet distance from Moore. “If last night’s election proved anything, it proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and the Senate,” the president tweeted.

New York Republican Rep. Peter King’s comment that Bannon looked like a “disheveled drunk” was merely a piling on.

When Bannon left the White House last August and immediately got behind Moore, it looked like an opportunistic but shrewd move to gain credit for an electoral win that was going to happen with or without his help. When Moore won the Republican primary over incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, Bannon looked, for a time, like a genius. But he grievously miscalculated, and Moore’s loss is now an anvil around his neck.

It is likely that he has lost his best shot at becoming a serious political figure with real influence. Bannon’s Breitbart News will remain a loud presence among a segment of Trump’s base — although Republican megadonor Robert Mercer is no longer supporting it, and is distancing himself from Bannon personally. If McConnell’s lieutenants can cement their relationship with Trump, and the president continues to keep his former adviser at arm’s length, that will leave Bannon badly wounded.

The question now is how Bannon can regain his footing. Just two months ago, a Bannon ally bragged that incumbent Republicans across the country in the Senate would face primary opponents. “Nobody’s safe,” the unnamed Bannon source said. That was an overstatement then, and seems increasingly like a hollow boast.

One of the Republican insurgents who had hoped to draft behind a Moore win, Corey Stewart, was at the Moore rally on Monday night. But another, Chris McDaniel of Mississippi, was not, even though his state is right next door to Alabama.

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Steve Bannon campaigns with Roy Moore
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Steve Bannon campaigns with Roy Moore
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore speaks during a campaign event in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon shake hands during a campaign event in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Buttons in support of Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore are seen before a campaign rally in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon campaigns for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore during a rally in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Supporters attend a campaign event held for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speaks during a campaign event for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speaks during a campaign event for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Chu Green holds a sign during a campaign rally held for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speaks during a campaign event for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore kisses his wife Kayla Moore during a campaign rally in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
Protesters stand outside of a campaign event held for Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman
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That contrast between Stewart and McDaniel demonstrates their relative political seriousness. McDaniel, who is sometimes referred to as “Chris McKlaniel” by his Republican antagonists in Mississippi in reference to what they suspect are his white supremacist views, narrowly lost the 2014 U.S. Senate primary to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. He is considering a run against the state’s other incumbent Republican senator, Roger Wicker.

But Wicker is a far more able candidate than Cochran, and will not be caught napping by McDaniel. The Mississippi GOP establishment will make sure of that, especially after their 2014 scare. It’s likely that McDaniel will pass on a run against Wicker and wait to see if Cochran’s seat opens up.

Stewart, on the other hand, has little chance of defeating incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in a state that just voted overwhelmingly for another Democratic governor in an off-year election.

Besides those two races, Bannon may try to go after the Senate seat being vacated by Arizona’s Jeff Flake. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican who has been critical of Trump, is the establishment-friendly candidate; Bannon is backing Kelli Ward, a physician who has dabbled in conspiracy theories and has drawn fire from McConnell’s super-Pac, the Senate Leadership Fund, which labeled her “crazy.” Expect McConnell and his allies to try to paint Ward as another Roy Moore — i.e., an extremist who could cost the party a winnable seat.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may retire, but that state has proved resistant to Trumpism. Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, is considering a run for the seat if Hatch steps aside. He would be an overwhelming favorite to win.

There has been talk of Bannon recruiting the controversial founder of the Blackwater security firm, Erik Prince, to run against Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., but Barrasso is popular in the state and has a good relationship with Trump.

Former New York Rep. Michael Grimm, who had a high-profile meeting with Bannon in the fall, is less appealing after the Moore fiasco. Does Bannon want to go from backing an accused child molester to a convicted felon who served seven months in prison for tax fraud? And it’s not clear Grimm has much of a chance to defeat incumbent Republican Rep. Dan Donovan anyway.

The overall message from the McConnell wing of the GOP now is that Bannon’s attempt to shake things up is a vanity project, and a deeply disruptive one at that. Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, argued that for Trump and the GOP to survive the 2018 elections with their majorities intact, they will have to jettison Bannon.

“A complete break from Bannonism in GOP primaries can reunite the party behind the Trump agenda and salvage the midterms,” Holmes told Axios.

And Moore’s loss, resulting in a Democrat winning in one of the most conservative states in the country, is all the evidence McConnell needs to make his case.

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