Roy Moore trounced Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican primary runoff for Alabama’s available Senate seat on Tuesday. Put another way, Stephen K. Bannon’s candidate won, and President Trump’s lost.
This wasn’t the first time Bannon and Trump have clashed since the president’s former chief strategist left the White House and returned to the helm of Breitbart News last month. Most notably, Breitbart hammered Trump for ordering an increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which the site considered a betrayal of the noninterventionist policy on which Trump campaigned.
In that instance, all Bannon could do was object to a decision that was out of his hands. In Alabama, however, he saw an opportunity to affect the outcome. CNN reported that Bannon directed his staff to hit Strange with withering force in the final week of the campaign — and it did.
Bannon then headlined a rally for Moore on the eve of the election, three days after Trump did the same for Strange.
Whether Bannon actually made a difference is hard to say. Moore finished first in the primary that preceded Tuesday’s runoff — while Bannon was still working in the White House and uninvolved in the campaign. The third-place finisher, Rep. Mo Brooks, then encouraged his supporters to get behind Moore.
In other words, Moore looked like he was on his way to victory before Bannon made the former jurist’s Senate bid a pet project.
But it is clear that Trump’s endorsement of Strange was not enough to swing the race. Not even close. Moore topped Strange by 6 points in the August primary and almost doubled his margin of victory on Tuesday.
If Trump thought he was influential enough to propel Strange to victory and counter the will of Bannon, he was wrong.
In a brazen interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Monday night, Bannon said that “President Trump got the wrong information and came down on the wrong side of the football here,” suggesting Trump is easily confused about his own brand of politics.
Bannon went so far as to say he was backing Moore for Trump, as if Bannon were better equipped to determine who carries the banner for Trumpism than Trump himself.
“What I’m here to do is to support Donald J. Trump by having folks down here support Judge Roy Moore,” Bannon told Hannity. “I think Roy Moore is the guy that’s going to represent Donald Trump and fight the establishment.”
With Bannon framing his disagreement with Trump as a favor to Trump, Breitbart is not rubbing the president’s face in defeat. The big loser, according to Breitbart, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who also endorsed Strange and is the face of the GOP establishment that Breitbart loathes.
But whether he displays it publicly or not, Bannon must be ecstatic to have gotten the best of Trump in Alabama — not because he can claim to hold more sway over voters (that’s a stretch) but because he more accurately read the pulse of the president’s base. Even as Trump rallied for Strange on Friday, he said that he “might have made a mistake.”
The real victory for Bannon might be that he reasserted his opinion as one that Trump would do well to listen to, if he wants to hold on to the voters who put him in the White House.