Roy Moore is the Steve Bannon project in a nutshell.
For the former Trump operative, the Alabama Senate candidate’s tattered credibility is a feature, not a bug. If Moore had well-considered political and legal views, good judgment and a sterling reputation, he’d almost by definition be part of the establishment that Bannon so loathes. Since Moore has none of those things, he’s nearly an ideal representative of the Bannon insurgency.
Events in Alabama make it clear that Bannon’s dime-store Leninism — burn everything down, including perhaps the Republican Senate majority — comes at a considerable cost. In this enterprise, the truth and standards don’t matter. Being anti-establishment is an escape clause from personal responsibility, and #war means proudly defending the indefensible.
It’s no accident that Bannon ended up joined at the hip to the one Republican in the state of Alabama who might be capable of losing a Senate race. Bannon went out of his way to associate himself with Moore, and to make the former judge — twice jettisoned from the state’s highest court — a poster boy for his style of politics.
Even before the latest revelations, Moore was a stereotype of a witless, conspiracy-minded Southern demagogue. At best, he was Sharron Angle — the accidental Republican candidate who lost to Harry Reid in 2010 — except running in what appeared to be an unlosable seat. The recent revelations of financial improprieties (Moore took an undisclosed salary from a nonprofit, despite his denials) and accusations of sexual misconduct suggest he is wholly Angle’s inferior.
There are two options in terms of Bannon’s role in Alabama.
If he’s the Svengali he portrays himself as, he’s falling down on the job. It appears Bannon didn’t do thorough oppo on his own candidate, a standard professional practice, and couldn’t prevail on Moore to get his story straight before talking to the media.
Then there’s the option that Bannon is simply a glorified bystander in Alabama, which is consistent with the fact that Moore would have almost certainly won the primary with or without Bannon’s support.
Bannon’s reputation, of course, depends on his role as Donald Trump’s chief strategist. The genius in the Trump operation, though, wasn’t Bannon; it was Trump, whose power as a communicator, gut-level political instincts and celebrity overcame his manifest failings in a race against a Democratic opponent who proved one of the worst candidates in modern presidential history.
Donald Trump was Donald Trump long before Bannon showed up, and, sure enough, he’s been Donald Trump since Bannon left the White House.
Ultimately, Bannon is a barnacle on the Trump brand, although one that can’t get his story straight. Sometimes he says the Trump administration is effectively over, in which case he’s implicitly saying that his erstwhile boss abandoned his voters within a year of taking office.
Bannon doesn’t dare follow this thought through to its logical conclusion. Instead, he inveighs against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bannon’s argument that a globalist cabal has coalesced to thwart Trump’s agenda in Washington is contemptible nonsense. Top congressional Republicans bite their tongues every day about Trump to keep the peace — and try to pass his agenda.
Obamacare repeal and replace failed in the Senate, not because McConnell wasn’t determined to pass it, but because three Senate Republicans went their own way despite McConnell’s good-faith efforts.
If Moore were in the Senate, he’d presumably be a reliable Republican vote like any other Alabama senator. The only difference is that he hates McConnell. Is that worth the reputational risk to the party of being associated with such a compromised figure? If there is a new Republican Senate leader in the next Congress, he sure as hell isn’t going to be a bomb thrower (Senate leaders never are). So what’s the point?
Apparently to find an unbelievably checkered collection of Senate candidates, and to put Senate seats at risk by nominating them, no matter what their electoral appeal or vulnerabilities. Steve Bannon wants as many Roy Moores as possible.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.