Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon implored conservative voters to join his vowed “war against the [Republican] establishment” and Senate leadership, threatening that massive campaign war chests will not protect GOP incumbents from angry conservative voters.
“It’s not my war; this is our war,” Bannon declared, pacing across the stage during the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Saturday. “And y’all didn’t start it, the establishment started it.”
In a speech at the annual gathering of social conservative activists, the now-informal adviser to President Trump mocked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), alluding to Shakespeare to suggest that he is eagerly awaiting the day McConnell’s leadership is publicly undermined by a fellow Republican.
“Up on Capitol Hill, it’s the Ides of March,” Bannon declared, referring to the group of senators who, in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” assassinated the leader of the Roman Empire by stabbing him in the back. Continuing with the analogy, Bannon added, addressing McConnell: “They’re just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.”
At various points in the speech, Bannon, who runs the far-right website Breitbart News, leveled attacks at former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and the Southern Poverty Law Center — whose funders, he alleged, have committed “economic hate crimes” — and boasted that Trump will win 400 electoral votes in 2020. But the bulk of the address consisted of a passionate screed against mainstream Republicans.
“It’s a test of wills,” Bannon said. “We’re going to determine … who is more powerful: the money of the corporatists or the muscle of the people.”
Bannon’s speech, one day after Trump himself addressed the gathering, comes amid his attempts to recruit far-right challengers to incumbent Republican senators who he believes impede his nationalist agenda and are not loyal to Trump. He took aim at Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who last week suggested that Trump is unfit for office and described the White House as an “adult day care” center.
“Bob Corker has trashed the commander in chief of our armed forces while we have young men and women in harm’s way, right? He said he’s leading them on a path to World War III, that he’s not stable, that people have to keep him moderated,” Bannon said, recounting Corker’s comments.
“Some U.S. senator in a position of that authority for the first time in the history of our republic has mocked and ridiculed a commander in chief when we have kids in the field,” Bannon said of Corker’s comments. The remarks were not, in fact, the first time a senator has criticized a president while troops were deployed; it’s a routine occurrence during most, if not all, modern presidencies.
Bannon then called on Republican senators John Barrasso (Wyo. .), Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) to condemn Corker’s comments or face possible primary challenges.
As evidence, Bannon cited the defeat last month of Sen. Luther Strange (Ala.), an incumbent endorsed by Trump and McConnell who was bested in a runoff election by Roy Moore. Moore is a longtime figure in Alabama politics best known for being removed from the state Supreme Court after refusing to comply with a court order to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse.
“The most important thing is an authentic candidate, whether it’s Donald Trump or Judge Moore,” Bannon said.