It seems like he had this all planned.
After being forced out as White House Chief Strategist in August, Steve Bannon has taken his conservative, anti-establishment, message on the road. Promising to be the courier of Trumpism, Bannon has declared a political war on establishment Republicans with the goal of removing GOP leadership from power.
And he seems to be winning.
Despite his ouster from the White House, Bannon’s war on the GOP has been effective. Just recently, Bannon campaigned for Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate primary, a race that the conservative firebrand Moore won over the establishment favorite.
Bannon has also set his sights on removing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from office, and recently unleashed a fusillade of insults at George W. Bush in a speech to California Republicans, condemning the forty-third president as a “nativist” and “bigot.”
And Bannon shows no sign of slowing down, declaring ‘open season’ on any Republicans who dare to oppose Trump.
So, how long can Bannon effectively wage war against the GOP, without the benefit of a White House clearance?
This depends on the success of the man Bannon has tethered himself to- President Trump.
After leaving the White House, Bannon declared the Trump presidency to be “over”, not meaning that Trump lacked legitimacy, but rather that Bannon intended to rally the president’s base to accomplish the administration’s policy goals.
Among those goals, Trump voters hold two of them closest to their hearts: increased border security and the revival of industrial jobs that have vanished with globalization.
But as Bannon promotes Trumpist candidates, and harnesses the anger of the president’s base, his success only goes as far as Trump’s ability to fulfill the policy objectives he promised during the campaign.
This is where we can begin to measure the life-expectancy of Bannon’s crusade against the GOP.
The first metric to consider is the progress Trump has made with border security. Throughout his campaign, and in the early months of his administration, Trump argued for a new border wall with Mexico and a travel ban. This played directly to his supporters’ sense of xenophobia, but also legitimate concerns over who gains access to our homeland.
Thus far, the administration has made little progress with the border wall. Funding for the project has stalled in Congress, as members consider a larger border security plan coupled with immigration reform. The administration, however, will point to the recent completion of eight border wall prototypes along the California-Mexico border as a significant advancement. But these prototypes still need to be tested, and cannot be put into practice without funding from Congress.
Trump has fulfilled his promise to ban travel from several middle eastern countries, a pledge that garnered substantial support from his base. Although the administration’s first travel ban failed to survive legal scrutiny, the revised ban has been successfully implemented, allowing Trump to satisfy the wishes of his supporters and claim a national security victory.
Perhaps the most important element to measure is job growth, particularly among white blue-collar workers. During his campaign, Trump focused much of his attention on convincing working-class Americans that he would breathe new life into their faltering careers. And he was politically savvy to do so- for the last five decades most Americans, after adjusting for inflation, have not seen an increase in their wages.
Trump found an even stronger talking point in pledging his fealty to coal miners, especially those in economically devastated areas that are predominantly inhabited by whites.
“We’re going to put those miners back to work. We’re going to get those mines open,” he told a hard-hat wearing crowd in Charleston, West Virginia.
While such a statement undoubtedly created supporters in areas like the Rust Belt, Trump has little chance of following through with his promises to the mining community. Over the past decade, coal power generation has dropped as natural gas prices have declined, offering power companies a cheaper and more clean energy alternative.
This leaves Trump in a fight with the free market, a battle he cannot win. In turn, coal miners, and likely much of the white working demographic, will be disappointed as Trump is unable to revive industries that have been felled by modernization. This is unfortunate for Bannon, who has harnessed the white working class’ allegiance to Trump and used it to fuel his rebellion against the GOP.
But Bannon’s crusade against the Republican Party, thus far, has been swift and effective. He has used his notoriety, connection to Trump, and status as curator of the Trumpist ideology to strike fear in the hearts of incumbent conservatives across the country.
Bannon’s mission, however, to bring his movement to Capitol Hill depends on whether the policies be helped create in the White House find long term success. In other words, if Trump can stem the flow of immigration, keep foreign terrorists from our shores and recreate industrial jobs for the working class, Bannon’s movement will likely continue to grow.
But if Trump is unsuccessful, then in a few years we might not even remember the guy who once called himself “Bannon the Barbarian”.