Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Trophy Hunting The Republican Party

photo of skull, tusks and upper vertebrae of Pachyderm skeleton

by Tony Wyman


How ironic that President Trump, the man who history may credit with the destruction of the Republican Party, has come out against trophy hunting elephants.  Isn’t that, in effect, what his presidential campaign and his presidency, itself, has been all about?

Trump cuts off tusks of elephant
President Trump’s legacy will include ending the political careers of Republican stalwarts like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake.

It certainly is for his chief supporters, men like Steve Bannon, who told crowds at the Values Voter Summit in October, “Nobody can run and hide on this one. These folks are coming for you,” referring to rebel alt-right candidates targeting mainstream Republicans opposed to Mr. Bannon’s reactionary nationalism.

“It is a season of war against the GOP establishment!” he cried to cheering attendees.

The president, during a cabinet meeting the Monday after, certainly erased any lingering doubts brought about by his split with Mr. Bannon on the Alabama Senate race that he also supports the assault on the Republican establishment when he said, “I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.”

Previous attacks on conservatives such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who was a Tea Party member before being a Tea Party member was cool, following early assaults on everyone from Mitch McConnell and John McCain to Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, staunch, lifelong conservatives, proved the president’s bona fides as an opponent of traditional Republicans, one more effective than anyone in the Democrat Party’s wettest dreams.

Combating the left, the Democrat Party and its entrenched establishment, seems to be an afterthought to the #NeverMcConnell wing of the GOP. Elephant slayers like the president, Mr. Bannon, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Alabaman Roy Moore, candidate for US Senate, and a host of minor sycophantic human echo chambers like Bill Mitchell and Tomi Lahren, seem much more interested in fighting lifelong conservatives and center-right Republicans than they do Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi or even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Lock her up!
President Trump holds an autographed “Lock Her Up!” sign at one of his rallies during the presidential campaign of 2016.

Oh, sure, they go after Hillary Clinton now and then when they feel the need to distract their base from the fact that nearly a year has past and the president still hasn’t done much of what he promised them. 

He hasn’t actually built a wall, kicked out Muslims, rounded up Mexicans or made foreign powers tremble in fear at the feet of a resurgent America.

But, as appealing a slab of red meat attacking Hillary Clinton is to the MAGAs -throwing more dirt on her political grave does little more than stir the blood of the president’s besotted followers.

It doesn’t slow down Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s collaboration with Russia. It doesn’t obscure Donald Jr.’s correspondence with Wikileaks.  It doesn’t hide Wikileaks’ affiliation with Russian spies, nor does it cover over Russia’s blatant attempts to subvert our presidential elections.

What it does do is drive a wedge between wings of the party, unnecessarily dividing one Republican from the next, creating a political headwind that neither the #NeverTrump nor #NeverMcConnell wings of the party can navigate.

Instead of a unified party driven by experienced leaders freed from the shackles of the Obama presidency, able to push real reform through Congress that could revitalize conservatism, much like the party did under President Reagan, the GOP is mired in a miasma of their own making, trapped like elephants in a ring of fire, unable to escape bullets fired from their own guns.

And this self-immolation, this circular firing squad, is doing the work the Democrats couldn’t do themselves without help. Despite the party having control of all three branches of government, it can’t muster support to pass meaningful legislation on meat and potato issues like health care, immigration reform, border security and, it seems, even tax breaks.

The obstacle isn’t the Democrat Party; it is the GOP itself that is halting progress. And the men to blame for this are Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon.  Their attacks against the so-called establishment wing of the party, started before the election even took place, is why the party is so fractured.

Their insistence on continuing these attacks, even after nearly a year of failures, demonstrates they haven’t learned, haven’t  re-calibrated their strategy to pass a real conservative agenda, and have no intention of doing anything short of destroying the Republican Party and replacing it with a reactionary, nationalist shadow of what the GOP once was.

Steve Bannon
Alt-right leader and nationalist icon Steve Bannon threatens Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After failing to organize in opposition to Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon during the election, it seems that Sen. McConnell and his allies are, finally, starting to fight back.

With less than a year to go before the 2018 mid-terms, the rational, mainstream members of the party announced a plan to support endangered incumbents against allies of Mr. Bannon.

While not directly attacking the president, who remains inexplicably relatively popular among GOP voters, the campaign aims to present Mr. Bannon and, by extension, candidates he supports, as hard-line nationalists linked to white supremacists like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spenser.

It will also support more traditional Republicans with conservative and conventional backgrounds, ones associated with core GOP voters who list national security, economic and military strength, and individual liberty as their most important political issues. The campaign will spend millions on political advertising and on social media campaigns designed to bypass pre-Trump media outlets like Fox News.

Attempting to combat the juggernaut of grievance-based politics engulfing the GOP base will be a challenging task, even for experienced political warriors of the caliber of Mitch McConnell.  Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon will continue to inflame this sense of victimhood they have both expertly exploited over their years in the political limelight. They will focus on appealing to the emotions of their base and countering the arguments of their establishment foes, by claiming to be defenders of the embattled little guy left to fend for himself by Republicans who only care for the rich and powerful.

If Sen. McConnell’s forces fail to redefine Mr. Bannon as a toxic liability for the party and the country, their attacks upon him could backfire and strengthen the credibility of insurgent candidates challenging establishment incumbents by unintentionally turning them into heroes fighting against a corrupt system working against the people.

If that happens and if the McConnell wing fails to put a dagger in Bannonism but instead, is left to pick up the pieces after stinging defeats in 2018, the GOP as we knew it before the rise of Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon will be de-tusked and its head mounted on a wall like a trophy.

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