CNN’s Eric Bradner reports–since the victory of hard-right former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in that state’s special election GOP primary, one of the prime movers in that insurgent win, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, ambitiously looking beyond that state to other 2018 Senate races in which a strident conservative could oust an incumbent Republican:
In the two weeks since Bannon-backed former judge Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s Republican primary, Bannon has expanded his map of targets in the 2018 midterms and ramped up his efforts to establish a donor network to fund his slate of insurgent candidates.
Bannon has added Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to the ranks of incumbents he plans to take on.
He had already put in motion efforts to oust Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. Bannon also plans to get involved in the primaries in West Virginia and Missouri, two of Republicans’ top opportunities to pick off Democratic-held seats next year.
And that’s “just a partial list,” a source familiar with Bannon’s plans said.
There is no one in America who should be more worried about Bannon’s insurgency against Republican incumbents that the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. The NRSC supported Moore’s appointed incumbent opponent Luther Strange in the Alabama primary, but after Moore emerged victorious Gardner immediately pledged the NRSC’s support–and has stayed aboard even after national exposure of Moore’s highly controversial record left moderates across the country aghast.
Bannon’s recent meetings with prospective Colorado gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo were reportedly followed up last week by reported meetings with Erik Prince, the Blackwater mercenary corporation founder and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as he considers a run for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming. But the real threat to the GOP Bannon poses is in swing states like Nevada, where incumbent Sen. Dean Heller needs to run to the center in order to survive–and won’t be able to with an insurgent challenger flaming him from the right.
And if Heller loses to a far-right Bannon-backed challenger, it’s 2010 all over again.
As we noted after Moore’s victory in Alabama, President Donald Trump is furious after being caught on the wrong side of that primary. We could easily see Trump deciding to run against the NRSC’s anointed candidates, even against GOP incumbents–an unthinkable prospect before Trump took office. The combination of Bannon energizing far-right primary candidates and the possibility of an unpredictable Republican president going rogue is a nightmare scenario for Gardner and the NRSC.
But if it goes down that way, the last person you’ll hear complain is Cory Gardner. Whatever happens, Gardner’s job will be to put a smile on the situation all the way through Election Day 2018. As quickly as Gardner became an apologist for Roy Moore, he’ll be forced to do the same for every one of Bannon’s insurgent candidates who win their primaries. As the GOP is driven farther into the fringe, Gardner’s job as the chair of the NRSC is to cheer it on.
Win or lose, this will not end well for Colorado’s junior Senator.