In his Alabama appearance for Roy Moore, Steve Bannon turned in an intellectually and morally putrid performance even by his standards.
There is a partisan case for voting for Moore, which is simply that Republicans can’t afford to lose a Senate seat and Moore’s failings must be ignored or rationalized away for the larger good of the party.
This is not an elevated line of reasoning and not obviously correct on its own terms. With Democrats throwing John Conyers and Al Franken overboard, Senate Republicans would be welcoming into their ranks a potent symbol of sexual malfeasance to be used against them.
It’s a better argument, though, than the tawdry justifications offered up by Bannon.
He seems to misunderstand the nature of the deplorables he seeks to lead. “Deplorable” is supposed to be an unfair, disparaging term for people who believe reasonable but politically incorrect things. It shouldn’t be a license for conduct that is truly deplorable.
As Democrats at long last begin to dump Bill Clinton, Bannon wants to adopt the ethics of the party of Clinton. In Alabama, he used that phrase redolent of the 1990s, “the politics of personal destruction.” Who is doing the destroying? Why the globalists, of course.
It’s not clear why they would be so fixated on defeating Moore that they’d work behind the scenes to get a bunch of women who don’t know each other to lie about him. It’s a lot of effort to defeat a man who is arguing he should be elected to provide another vote for corporate tax cuts.
Bannon referred to a conspiracy against Donald Trump in how the “Access Hollywood” tape was brought to light, somewhat jocularly. But his mindset is deeply conspiratorial. Because there are so many forces arrayed against you — the globalists, the establishment, the media — you are freed of any moral responsibility or standards.
In fact, the mere mention of “honor” or “integrity” is a terrible provocation. Bannon launched a scurrilous attack on Mitt Romney because the former Republican presidential nominee used those terms in opposing Moore. Bannon shot back, in a truly perverse riff, that Moore has more honor in his “pinkie” than the entire Romney clan; per Bannon, Moore served in Vietnam and Romney didn’t, and none of Romney’s sons joined the military.
Obviously, if going to Vietnam and having kids who served in the military is the sole measure of honor, Trump fails the test, and John McCain passes it. This doesn’t stop Bannon from considering Trump a hero and McCain a disgrace. But it’s not worth trying too hard to unpack Bannon’s spiel.
There is a huge element of play-acting here. Bannon waited to see which way the wind was blowing in Alabama. If Moore were still running consistently behind Democrat Doug Jones, Bannon wouldn’t be holding a campaign rally for him and challenging Romney to come down to Alabama to prove his manhood.
The urgency to get the party to back Moore-type candidates isn’t immediately apparent. If the point is just to hold Republican Senate seats, safer, more conventional Republicans are better suited to the task. If the point is just to support the Trump agenda, safer, more conventional candidates are as reliable, and perhaps more reliable than the likes of Moore, who opposed the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.
Part of the point has to be to elect candidates who have no standards for the sake of it. Bannon may be thinking ahead to a time when the Trump sex allegations become a live issue again or when a true scandal emerges from the Robert Mueller investigation. In this scenario, will there be anyone more naturally inclined to be dismissive of the accusers or other evidence than Judge Roy Moore?
Bannon may also believe that a GOP with a highly attuned ethical sense can’t truly be the party of the working class. In which case, who is the one who has contempt for the “rubes”?
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.