The new shtick in GOP circles is to applaud Roy Moore’s loss and vilify Steve Bannon as a threat to conservatism. I get that, but why do many of these same people still back President Donald Trump?
After all, Bannonism — the “philosophy” that Trump ran on and adopted — is a toxic brew of anti-government nihilism, protectionism, America First-ism, white nationalism, evangelical grievance-mongering, Russian bootlicking and seething hatred of the media. There’s little to no difference between that and the daily tweets of Trump or the programming on Fox News, which dutifully carries Trump’s water. It’s frankly baffling that Republicans could take comfort in Moore’s defeat and Bannon’s embarrassment and yet still enthusiastically defend Trump.
Now it is true that Trump has something Bannon does not, namely an absolute indifference to the economic populism on which the Trump campaign ran. Bannon was content to raise taxes on the rich, opposed beginning the agenda with Obamacare repeal and loathed the small-government mentality embodied in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s agenda. Trump, having no real views or empathy for others, is happy to pursue supply-side economics on stilts. His inner circle consists of clueless millionaires and billionaires (the sort who pose with a sheet of dollar bills) who reinforce his selfish desire to diminish his own tax bills (with elimination of the alternative minimum tax, the 25 percent pass-through rate and now the lower top marginal tax rate). So is this the part of Trumpism — its sheer contempt for the middle class and poor — that leaves Republican pundits and lawmakers still defending Trump? On this one, Bannonism seems a bit less out-of-touch than the Trump-Ryan-Mnuchin economic approach.
Bannon’s “crime” in the right’s playbook was picking a lunatic for the Alabama Senate seat. But then again, Trump was no less reckless with the party’s fortunes when he attacked dissenting Republicans (Nevada Republican Dean Heller can likely wave goodbye to his seat after his embarrassing performance during the Obamacare repeal debacle) or embraced crackpots such as Kelli Ward in Arizona.
The natural inclination of Republicans is to treat Trump like a helpless victim at the mercy of the mercurial Bannon (not unlike the “SNL” parody sketch). In a written statement, Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund PAC, declared: “Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into this fiasco.”
Dragged the president into this fiasco? Really? The president was counseled to stay out of the race but chose to plunge in, either out of orneriness, a desire to get credit for a win he expected or out of identification with the seething hatred of media elites. Bannon dragged him in?
As Trump critic Rick Wilson writes, “Wednesday’s walk backs, revisions, and memory-holing of Donald Trump’s full-throated endorsement of Roy Moore aren’t a coincidence, but no one’s falling for it. Donald Trump strongly and powerfully supported [Moore.]”
And so those Republicans rejoicing in Bannon’s humiliation should remind themselves that Trump is every bit as toxic, politically reckless and arrogantly out-of-touch with democratic values and ideals as Bannon. In fact, Trump from the Oval Office poses a far greater danger to the GOP and the country. And listen, for all his faults Bannon — to our knowledge — at least has not been accused of serial sexual predation. Maybe, Republicans, the problem isn’t Bannon.
JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON
Editor’s note: Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post.