GOP In Open Warfare With Itself

[ Posted Thursday, October 26th, 2017 – 17:04 UTC ]

While admittedly the Democrats have some fence-mending to do between the two wings of their party, at least their rhetoric doesn't lean quite so much towards military metaphors. But over on the Republican side of the aisle, both sides seem to be using the term "open warfare" to describe what is going on. Steve Bannon was the first to use the belligerent "warfare" terminology, but it now looks like allies of Mitch McConnell are just as committed to a battlefield fight over the course of the next year.

The Washington Post broke this story, with the bellicose language right up front:

Allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared open warfare on Wednesday against Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and leader of an insurrection aimed at defeating mainstream Republican candidates in next year's midterm elections.

More than a year ahead of the 2018 congressional contests, a super PAC aligned with McConnell (R-Ky.) revealed plans to attack Bannon personally as it works to protect GOP incumbents facing uphill primary fights. The effort reflects the growing concern of Republican lawmakers over the rise of anti-establishment forces and comes amid escalating frustration over President Trump's conduct, which has prompted a handful of lawmakers to publicly criticize the president.

Yet the retaliatory crusade does not aim to target Trump, whose popularity remains high among Republican voters. Instead, the McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund (S.L.F.) will highlight Bannon's hard-line populism and attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support. It will also boost candidates with traditional GOP profiles and excoriate those tied to Bannon, with plans to spend millions and launch a heavy social media presence in some states.

What this all means for Democrats is that two factions of the Republican Party are about to spend tens -- maybe hundreds -- of millions of dollars attacking each other. On the one side, the article notes: "Hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah -- Bannon's wealthy allies -- have pledged millions to the cause, said people briefed on their plans." On the other side: "Bannon's critics... also point to Sen. Luther Strange's defeat in last month's Republican primary in a special Senate election in Alabama as an example of a dynamic they worry could repeat itself across the next year if left unchecked. The S.L.F. spent more than $10 million to help Strange."

The S.L.F. is rather pointedly not going after Donald Trump in any way. Neither side wants to antagonize Trump voters, they instead want those voters to vote for their candidates. Which led, in that Alabama race, to each candidate trying to out-Trump each other, so to speak. Instead, the S.L.F. will try to paint Bannon's candidates as wacky and unelectable, while personally attacking Bannon with enough viciousness to warrant the "open warfare" label:

On Wednesday, the S.L.F.'s Twitter account mocked Danny Tarkanian -- a frequent conservative candidate in Nevada who is challenging Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) -- for suggesting that Heller join him in pledging to oppose McConnell as majority leader.

The tweets also turned the spotlight on Bannon.

The S.L.F. tweeted a 2016 headline from the New York Daily News -- "Anti-Semitic Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon not a big fan of 'whiny brat' Jews, ex-wife says" -- with space for Tarkanian's signature.

"Here's another pledge for @DannyTarkanian to sign," the PAC tweeted.

The Daily News reported last year that in a 2007 court statement, Bannon's former wife Mary Louise Piccard said he didn't want their twin daughters attending a school because too many Jews attended. "The biggest problem he had with Archer [School for Girls in Los Angeles] is the number of Jews that attend," Piccard said in her statement, the newspaper reported.

Ouch. Trolling through divorce proceedings is an often-used political tactic, but it's usually reserved for the candidates, not their backers. On the other side, Bannon is directly attacking McConnell, urging Republican senators to dump him as majority leader. Bannon's got some polling on his side, as he points out that 56 percent of Republicans are in favor of kicking Mitch McConnell out of his leadership position.

This is where Democrats should really be paying attention. Because Bannon is right -- both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are held in incredibly low esteem right now with average voters. With their hands tied by both the Tea Party and the sane GOP senators, McConnell and Ryan haven't been able to get much of anything done. With Bannon leading the charge against the Republican leaders in Congress, it creates a wonderful opportunity for Democrats to exploit.

Republicans, over the past decade or so, have done an admirable job of demonizing Nancy Pelosi and (to a lesser extent, since he hasn't been Senate leader as long as Pelosi has led the House) Chuck Schumer. Local House GOP candidates use Pelosi in their ads all the time, as a scare tactic. "Elect Democrat Jones, and she'll just be a puppet for (cue ominous music) Nancy Pelosi!"

It's time Democrats took this page from the Republican playbook, and used exactly the same tactic against both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. With the GOP leadership's public approval ratings in the toilet, and with Steve Bannon helpfully paving the way, this really shouldn't be that hard to do. "Don't want to see more gridlock in Washington under Mitch McConnell? Vote Democrat Jones in November!" If Democrats need ad ideas, all they have to do is flip the script on pretty much any of the anti-Pelosi ads. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are in a pretty weak state right now. And they're distracted by having to spend tens of millions defending themselves against Steve Bannon. So by the time the general election really gets going, Democrats should be ready to follow up and capitalize on how weak the congressional Republican leaders are.

In any war there will be casualties. In the Republican-on-Republican battle currently being waged -- whether Bannon candidates win the primary or McConnell candidates -- both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will enter the general election in a wounded political state, at the very least. Democrats who want to see different leadership in Congress should have a pretty easy case to make in finishing them off.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “GOP In Open Warfare With Itself”

  1. [1] 
    Don Harris wrote:


    Is that what you now call the recent purge that you mentioned in FTP MDDOTW?

    If the Democrats want to fix the fence they had better make sure that the Big Money Democrats are located outside the fence- otherwise there is no point in having a fence. Or having a Democratic Party.

    It's time that citizens took a page from the Tea Party and challenged Big Money Democrats in the primaries, the idea from a page from Bernie and improve on the idea by demanding small contribution candidates and a page from the Women's March and other successful internet campaigns by participating in One Demand.

    That is the only war that is really worth fighting or writing about.

    You should not be celebrating an opportunity for Big Money Democrats to win by exploiting a fractured GOP.
    You should be celebrating the opportunity to purge the Democratic Party of the Big Money influences while the Big Money Democrats are weakened, not spouting the party line nonsense.

    This is a war for the future of our country and if you're on the side of Big Money, whether it's Big Money Republicans or Big Money Democrats- you are on the wrong side. You are an enemy of America.

    It's time to step up to the plate and fight for America against the Big Money interests that are just as much if not more of an enemy of our country and it's citizens as any foreign government or even terrorist organizations.

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Senate Lost Oh The Horror

    The SLOTH Fund

    Too late, too slowwww

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Not to quibble, but shouldn't the column headline have been GOP In Covert War With Itself?

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "In any war there will be casualties."

    Mitch...stay with me buddy're going to make it...

  5. [5] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    When I was a very young child, I briefly had an Alice in Wonderland poster that hung on my bedroom wall. It featured the Disney Alice in Wonderland characters assembled across the bottom, with the grinning, ghostly visage of an immense Cheshire Cat gazing down upon them. It had been purchased for me by my father, who was a fan of the fanciful wordplay in the Alice books, and liked to recite "The Jabberwocky" to me from memory, bless his soul.

    But the poster was removed after just a few days because it terrified me, particularly since it sorta glowed in the dark as well. Later in life I learned that Disney's Alice had terrified lots of kids and was a terrific disappointment for Disney himself as well for that reason.

    So anyway, last night I read this article just before I went to bed, and as I drifted off, that old poster invaded my dreams, albeit that the characters had become Trump and Bannon and Ryan and Mitch, etc., and the face of the Cheshire cat had morphed into the giant leering visage of - Newt Gingrich.

    After thinking about it all day today, I've finally realized why I would conjure such an awful image: it was because Newt started all of this.

    "The Congress is a kind of club. I intend to go up there and kick the system over, not try to change it." - Newt Gingrich, during his first run for office, 1974.

    Reading up about the details of Gingrich's life today gave me another flash of Deja Vu in reverse: his past constantly reminds me of the present. Read this article from the Washington Post by Mary McCrory, written in 1989, just before he ascended to the speakership, to see exactly what I mean.

    After that, Newt pops up like Forrest Gump at every cultural inflection point in the recent history of the Republican Party, from his association with Frank Luntz that began in 1990 (Luntz told Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 2007 that "To be 'Orwellian' is to speak with absolute clarity") to his presence at the Republican dinner held on inauguration day in 2009 wherein a group of party leaders that included Luntz, Gingrich, Ryan, and McConnell decided that the best way to deal with the tremendously popular new President Obama was to simply oppose every single thing he did - including GOP initiatives that Obama endorsed - to prevent him from racking up any 'wins' during his first term. By many accounts, this "Party of No" initiative originated with Gingrich.

    It may come as a surprise to some, then, that Gingrich was a bit late getting onto the Trump bus - although he was in Trump's camp by March 2016, he didn't endorse him 'officially' until May (on Hannity's show), when Trump's nomination was all but inevitable. Still, once that endorsement was made, he instantly rose to the top of Trump's VP contenders list.

    Despite all of that history, Gingrich is just three years older than Trump.

    But Gingrich doesn't need to be President, nor hold any official role in GOP politics, because the Republican Party, and all sides of the current 'rift', from the McConnell obstructionists to the Bannon nihilists are essentially playing from his playbook, in some fashion.

    And that gigantic, terrifying smile that I imagined must surely be one of satisfaction at the chaotic Wonderland that he has wrought.

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