Bannon’s Downfall

The Briefing, Vol. VI, Issue 2

This week:

  • Luck of the draw
  • Bannon’s downfall gives rise to the Trump-stablishment
  • Mandel backs out in Ohio

Virginia House of Delegates:

Republicans dodged a bullet and narrowly retained control of the lower House of Virginia’s legislature thanks to the drawing of lots. Republican David Yancey won his race, which had ended in a perfect tie, thanks to a game of random chance. The 51-49 Republican final total in the House appears at this point to be beyond any court challenge, meaning that the party has weathered the worst of it and will maintain a toe-hold in state government at least until 2019.

The Virginia result in November’s election was about as bad as it can get in the Old Dominion — something Republicans will need to bear in mind as they try to defend their territory in the Trump era.

There’s no question that with Trump in the White House, they are especially vulnerable, at least in certain states and at least for now. They cannot count on any sort of gerrymandering or their incumbency to save them from the coming wrath. Even the just are scarcely safe.

Bannon falling-out:

Don’t be fooled by the White House’s protestations. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former advisor, had enough influence within Trump’s administration that the president was still calling him for advice even after he had been fired. Bannon probably was the one who led Trump to express doubts about his own endorsement of Luther Strange in Alabama’s Senate primary.

And so when the White House pretends he never had much clout with Trump, don’t believe it. Still, the acrimony in last week’s dust-up is very real. Bannon is now persona non grata in Trump’s White House after attacking his son’s meeting with a Russian cut-out, and for saying a few other things as well in a new book about the Trump White House.

Bannon may simply have miscalculated when he offered up his quotations, but his fall from grace throws a wrench into his project of reshaping the GOP. Already, it is putting the question to Republican candidates who have his endorsement, such as Wisconsin’s Kevin Nicholson and (until late last week) Ohio’s Josh Mandel. And in the meantime, it has eviscerated a potentially new threat to the hegemony of the establishment Senate Leadership.

With Bannon’s sudden and complete fall from grace, combined with his earlier flop in Alabama, Sen. Mitch McConnell has all but recovered control of the national Republican Party, at least when it comes to Senate races. Indeed, after the relative decline in influence of conservative groups that were less Trump-friendly, he is probably more influential now than he was at any time before 2014.

It’s anyone’s guess what sort of other consequences this could have in the realm of policy. One possibility is that Trump will pursue a more liberalized immigration policy in Bannon’s absence, being less afraid of offending the base that the Breitbart CEO had spoken for.

Senate 2018

Ohio: An explosive development here. State Treasurer Josh Mandel announced Friday he is dropping out of this race due to a problem with his wife’s health. He had found a niche as the favorite of all parties in the ongoing GOP internal conflict. What’s more, the early polling suggested he had a real shot in the general election against Sen. Sherrod Brown, D. Now the whole thing becomes a far more complicated question.

Even so, there is an abundance of qualified Republican candidates in Ohio, a once-swingy state that seems well on its way to becoming deep Red. The governor’s race is currently quite crowded, and any one of its major competitors — including Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor or former Sen. Mike DeWine — could switch over and become the favorite in a Republican Senate primary right away. Even outgoing Gov. John Kasich could potentially get in. The whole thing upsets the balance of the battle for the soul of the post-Kasich Ohio Republican party, but it will at least guarantee that Brown still probably won’t be getting a free ride.

Utah: Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch is officially retiring, and as a consequence it seems almost certain that Mitt Romney will run for and win his seat. This is not thrilling news for Trump’s White House, whose efforts to forestall Romney’s rise will prove futile in the absence of a well-known ally within the state who can carry his banner. Utah is not a Trump-friendly state to begin with. Unlike, say, Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake, Romney will not face severe consequences with the voters even if he is very critical of the president, within reason.

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson, R, whose political instincts everyone doubted during his 2016 race, is proving to be quite the savvy politico. He won that race of course, against all expectations, and now he is already playing a constructive role in this year’s primary for the state’s other Senate seat, currently held by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D.

Johnson has wisely pressured the two feuding conservative candidates, Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson, into signing a unity pledge. Each now promises to support the August primary victor in the November general election. That restores what had become a very bitter race early on into something that at least has limits of conduct for the candidates.

Governor 2018

Florida: Conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis, R, was forced to play second-fiddle in 2016, when he backed out of a Senate bid in order to let Marco Rubio jump back into his re-election race. This year, his ambition to enter the upper chamber of Congress was thwarted again by Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s apparent determination to take on Sen. Bill Nelson, D, and spend a personal fortune in the process if necessary.

But DeSantis has already won public praise from Trump in his now-official race to succeed Scott as governor, even though that race pits him squarely against the establishment favorite, former Rep. and current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

It is incredible upon reflection, but Florida, an evenly-divided state in terms of presidential elections for a generation now, will not have had a Democratic governor in 20 years by the time this year’s election occurs. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, D, one of four Democrats who have declared for the seat already, may represent the party’s best chance since its last victory in 1994.

Texas: The Lone Star State can top Florida in terms of party streaks: Not only has it not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, it also has no living former Democratic governors at all.

With the March primaries rapidly approaching, no credible Democrat has stepped forward to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. One potential Democratic opponent is Andrew White, son of long-ago former Gov. Mark White. Another is the more progressive Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. The two are arguably the strongest of the seven candidates declared in the Democratic primary. Abbott has raised $41 million so far and isn’t quaking in his boots.