The recent Republican Senate primary in Alabama was about far more than a single seat. In a variety of ways, the race between Luther Strange and Roy Moore was a proxy fight, pitting the conservative Republican establishment against even its even-more-conservative insurgent base.
When Moore cruised to a rather easy victory, it jolted GOP politics nationwide. The Washington Examiner reported a few days after the primary that senior Republican strategists have begged red-state incumbents -- including Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) -- to "prepare early for a primary."
With Roy Moore winning despite being outspent and despite the opposition of the Republican establishment, the Examiner's piece added that the activists and donors who fund conservative challengers now believe "their investments might pay off."
As Bloomberg Politics reported the other day, Donald Trump's former chief strategist is ready to lead the charge.
Steve Bannon plans to back primary challengers to almost every Republican senator who runs for re-election next year in an effort to depose Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and streamline Senate voting procedures, three people familiar with his plans said. [...]Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents, the people said. He'll support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators' ability to block legislation by filibustering.
"We're going to go after them. There's a coalition coming together that's going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz," Bannon told Fox News last night night. "We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on. We're going after these guys tooth and nail."
That, of course, will require considerable resources, and Bloomberg Politics' report added that Bannon is in the process of holding "a series of meetings with donors, potential candidates and grassroots strategists." Not surprisingly, hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, a Bannon benefactor, is reportedly involved in the endeavor.
Nine months into the Trump era, with Republicans controlling all of the levers of governmental power, the most important fight in GOP politics appears to be the one Republicans are fighting with themselves.
One of the aspects of this that remains unclear is whether Bannon has the power he thinks he has. Moore's victory in Alabama was important, but did he win because of support from Bannon and his allies, or did Moore succeed because he's a right-wing folk hero who ran against an appointed incumbent tied to a former disgraced governor?
Or put another way, Bannon got the result he wanted in Alabama, but how much evidence is there that this can be duplicated in 15 other states?
Meanwhile, Democrats are wondering about the opportunities that may arise as a result of the Republicans' intra-party conflict. Remember, it wasn't long ago that various "Tea Party" groups and activists had ambitions that were quite similar to Bannon -- drive out "establishment" Republicans in primaries and replace them with more radical candidates -- and in several cases, it made it vastly easier for Democrats to win races they were expected to lose.
Harry Reid, for example. was in deep trouble in Nevada in 2010, right up until Republicans nominated Sharron Angle. The same year, Dems were certain they'd lose in Delaware, right up until Christine O'Donnell became the GOP nominee. Two years later, far-right Republicans nominated Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana -- and both red-state candidates lost because they repelled mainstream voters.
Will Bannon's crusade create comparable opportunities for Democrats in 2018? We're about to find out.