Steve Bannon — the Political Right’s Benjamin Linus

On Sunday, Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported that President Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is leading an effort to remove a number of sitting senators in the 2018 election. Notably, the politicians he’s targeting aren’t Democrats. They’re Republicans, and his plan is to take them out during the primaries, and replace them with candidates perceived to be more loyal to the Trump agenda (whatever that happens to be on any given day). Right-leaning hedge-fund tycoon and mega-donor, Robert Mercer, is said to be on-board with the operation, and is prepared to invest millions of dollars in attacking Republican incumbents.

As you can imagine, senior Republicans aren’t at all that excited about the idea. The GOP currently holds only a four-seat majority in the senate. An expensive effort to attack and diminish those up for re-election could help the Democrats regain some of those seats.

Former Mitch McConnell chief of staff, Josh Holmes, who is quoted in Isenstadt’s piece, frames the argument this way: “The issue is: Do you invest your time and energy in attacking people who are carrying this president’s water in Congress to the benefit of people who are trying to impeach him? That seems like an incredibly short-sighted strategy.”

Now, Trump fans would probably scoff at the notion that elected GOP representatives are “carrying the president’s water,” but the truth is that nearly every Republican senator has voted with Trump over 90% of the time since inauguration day. This includes Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, who’ve both been outspoken critics of the president. Conversely, the Democrats have opposed most Trump-backed initiatives, the average Democratic senator having supported the president less than 30% of the time.

Still, Bannon made it clear in his recent 60 Minutes interview that he has far more contempt for “establishment Republicans” than he does the Democrats. His declaration of “war” wasn’t against people like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. It was against the GOP. And one gets the sense that Bannon would be more than fine with Republicans losing their majorities in congress…if it meant teaching the party a lesson. Pragmatically, Bannon might even view such a scenario as beneficial, being that the Democrats may be more receptive (as Trump was) to his nationalistic views on the economy and foreign policy.

Still, Bannon’s more immediate goal (as it was when he was in the White House) is commanding party loyalty to Donald Trump, through whatever convoluted means he deems necessary. In this sense, he’s similar to the Benjamin Linus character from the television show, Lost.

Linus (played brilliantly by actor Michael Emerson) was the manipulative leader of The Others — a dedicated tribe of island natives committed to securing the homeland and carrying out, without question, the abstruse will (or at least what Linus presented as the will) of the island’s mystical supreme leader, Jacob.

Linus’s motivations, however, weren’t always pure. He secretly wanted Jacob’s power, and he concocted self-serving schemes to get it. This involved forming odd but strategic alliances — some of them negotiated at gunpoint. Yet, he managed to justify every sinister act he carried out by claiming it was done in service and loyalty to Jacob, the tribe’s leader and island’s protector.

And for most his followers, that was enough…because Linus was convincing and Jacob was divine.

Over the past year, Bannon has been undeniably influential — far beyond anything he had previously achieved at Breitbart. He managed a successful presidential campaign, authored much of the president’s messaging (including his inauguration speech), and served as a top-level advisor in the White House. A ride like that would leave anyone with a strong sense of validation and purpose. And Bannon clearly feels compelled to continue the fight, despite being vanquished from the island. He wants to be relevant again, and he has found a new vehicle.

Unfortunately for the “GOP establishment,” Bannon views them (not liberals or the Democratic party) as the primary enemy. They’re his Dharma Initiative — a highly organized and well-funded group of overstepping infidels that must be dealt with, because the two groups can’t co-exist in the long term. And as fans of Lost can tell you, that conflict didn’t end particularly well for the Dharma folks.

Remarkably, a good chunk of the modern Right seems to agree with Bannon about the GOP. A lot of Republican voters now hold a deeper disdain for people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan than they do for liberal Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. We saw proof of this when Trump threw congressional Republicans (and parts of his own agenda) under the bus to needlessly hand “Chuck and Nancy” everything they wanted on the debt-ceiling deal. Trump fans didn’t just like it…they loved it!

The sentiment (as echoed by media-Trumpkins like Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Laura Ingraham) was that as long as the agreement made the Republicans in congress look foolish (just as congress had made Trump look foolish by failing to pass a healthcare bill), the deal was a good thing. In other words, Trumpers would rather punish McConnell and Ryan — by handing the Democratic party needless victories (and granting them political leverage they wouldn’t have otherwise had) — than let the GOP make headway on important objectives like tax reform.

This mindset only makes sense to those more interested in catering to the whims of a tribe leader than pursuing any kind of political agenda. But that’s where we’re at in 2017 — a mere two years after John Boehner was ousted from his speakership for being too accommodating to the Democrats (and Boehner never capitulated as spectacularly as Trump just did).

Bannon understands that the culture has changed, and that when people put more faith in personas than they put in ideas and principles, they are more easily manipulated. Thus, he’s banking on there being enough Trump support left in November of 2018 to continue to punish the GOP establishment, regardless of the results.

Will Bannon succeed? It’s very doubtful. With the important exception of the presidency, primary battles between traditional Republicans and Trump acolytes have gone quite well for the traditional candidates. Look up a guy named Paul Nehlen if you need an example.

Still, just like with Benjamin Linus, you can’t count Steve Bannon out. It’s easier to destroy something than it is to fix it, and Bannon’s aim is clearly to destroy.

Can the Republican Party Survive?

Trump and CruzEvery four years we get the same alert: “This is the most important presidential election in our lifetime.” The message is clear, if not spoken in so many words: Get out and vote because if you don’t and the wrong candidate wins … America is doomed! Of course, it never quite works out that way. Somehow we manage to survive. And then, four years later, we get the same dire warning.

But this time the boy may not be crying wolf. This time, at least for Republicans, it may very well be the most important election of a lifetime – and not because of the fear that if Hillary wins the country will go down the drain. This time the very existence of the party may be at stake.

The two leading candidates on the Republican side – Donald Trump and Ted Cruz – are also the most polarizing candidates in the field. Their supporters love them and their detractors detest them. They may be the most popular on the GOP side at the moment — but they may also be the least popular in a general election.

In a New York Times story, under the headline, “For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split”, Senator Lindsey Graham says, in essence, that judgment day for his party is coming.

“If Trump or Cruz wins the White House, then my side of the party has to re-evaluate who we are, what we stand for, and I’d be willing to do that,” he told the Times. “But if Trump or Cruz loses the presidency, would their supporters re-evaluate their views on immigration and other issues that would grow the party? If they do that, we can come back together. If they don’t, the party probably splits in a permanent way.”

That’s not an exaggeration. Cruz supporters have very little in common with those who like John Kasich or Chris Christie, for example. Trump supporters don’t have much use for Jeb Bush or Carly Fiorina. Will the moderates really “re-evaluate” what their party stands for if their wing loses. Maybe. But it’s hard to imagine the hard right doing much re-evaluating – a process many in that wing see as selling out their principles.

As the Times points out, “While party leaders like Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina say Republicans are in a ‘demographic death spiral’ and will not survive unless they start appealing to Hispanics and young people, many voters see such statements as a capitulation. They hunger for an unapologetic brand of conservatism that would confront rather than acquiesce to the political establishment — sentiments that have been amplified by conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and commentators like Ann Coulter, whose verbal broadsides influence the party’s agenda.”

The split is real. It’s not just that the hard right disagrees with moderates; the hard right detests the moderates, whom they see as wimpy RINOs. And the feelings are mutual going the other way. The moderates see the hard right as crazies who think compromise is a felony. So, do the two wings of the Republican Party have enough in common to actually come together and back the party’s candidate, whoever it turns out to be?

It’s plausible that if Trump doesn’t get the nomination, many of his followers, disillusioned as they might be, would jump onto the Cruz bandwagon. And the same is true if Cruz doesn’t get the nomination; many of his supporters would support Trump.

But what if the frontrunners don’t make it to the finish line? It’s hard to imagine Trump and Cruz supporters backing an “establishment” candidate. Marco Rubio might be a someone both sides can support. But that’s not a sure thing – or anything close to a sure thing.

America may not flourish if Hillary Clinton wins. The last thing we need next time around is Barack Obama in a dress. But America will survive. It always does. As for the Republican Party … I’m not at all sure about that.




Bios & Biases

Every so often, so many items capture my attention that I either have to get them down on paper or accept the fact that I can never hope to catch up. But never let it be said that Prelutsky took the easy, logical, sane, commonsensical, approach.

To get the ball rolling, let me confess that I not only tend to shy away from non-fiction books in general, but even more so when it comes to biographies. I have multiple problems with them. To begin with, they are written by researchers and academicians, and so I usually find the writing dry and humorless. For another, they tend to begin with a rundown on the subject’s ancestors. Although parents and grandparents may have played a huge role in the way the person turned out, if I wanted to read about them, I’d be reading their biographies. My third reason, shameful as it must sound to many of you, is that I’m not that interested in reading five or six hundred pages about any one person.

Before opening the floodgates to well-intentioned suggestions for my reading list, understand I have come to these conclusion through experience, not rumor. To me, sitting down with a biography is the equivalent of asking someone for the time and being told how to make a watch.

I confess that as cynical as I am, even I’m shocked that so many people seem to be up in arms over the NSA keeping track of millions of phone numbers, but are seemingly unconcerned that the ObamaCare website has rolled out the equivalent of a red carpet for every computer hacker between here and Timbuktu. They don’t even have to say “Open Sesame” in order to know everything about you, including your medical history, your birthday, your social security number, your bank account and, yes, even your telephone number.

By this time, I assume everyone has seen the stomach-turning video of the little black child in a diaper being coached by his gangbanging uncle to repeat the most vulgar words imaginable. What I found interesting is that when some cop in Omaha used the word “thug” in referring to the uncle, the ACLU immediately jumped in to denounce him for employing a racist term. It’s one thing to be a knucklehead and quite another to hire a skywriter to let the world know about it.

Everyone knows that “thug” is a generic word that has no racial connotations. Thugs come in all sizes, shapes and colors. But the mopes at the ACLU who’d go out of business if they couldn’t trump up cases based on matters as trivial as hurt feelings or intentional misinterpretations of the Constitution, let us all know that whenever they hear “thug” or, I assume, “bully,” “dope dealer,” “rapist” or “scumbag,” they immediately assume the reference is to a black person. I’m just asking, you understand, but doesn’t that qualify as racist?

Although the next presidential election is still nearly three years off, I am already hearing from those who are certain that Obama is planning to pull off a coup so he can become a dictator for life. I grant that he doesn’t show a lot of respect towards the Constitution or even American traditions, for that matter, but I have to wonder how it is that the paranoiacs seem to have so little confidence in the military that they’d believe the Army would be party to a power-grab.

It so happens that I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve heard the same concerns when Clinton and Bush were into their second terms. I acknowledge that Obama is a far worse menace than either of them, but this is not a banana republic. There’s no getting around the fact that the Obamas love the perks of the office, but inasmuch as the Clintons were able to bank over $100,000,000 between 2001 and 2008, I’m sure the Obamas will be able to pay for their own vacations after 2016.

Speaking of Obama, he and Kerry are clearly dying to give the store away to Iran. In fact they are so desperate to cut a deal with the mullahs, and make it appear they’ve scored a diplomatic success, they are willing to sell what passes for their souls to the Devil.

Nearly 70 senators, including about 20 Democrats, are basically saying, “Okay, negotiate with the bastards all you want, but if after six months, they haven’t agreed to halt their pursuit of a nuclear bomb, tougher economic sanctions will automatically kick in.” Aside from the fact that sitting down with jihadists makes about as much sense as Chamberlain trying to placate Hitler, you would think that Obama and Kerry could live with it. But the Iranians are insisting that they won’t negotiate with a threat hanging over their head. To me, the real problem is that the threat they face is merely financial and not thermonuclear.

With 2016 lurking around the corner, I was heartened to hear RNC kingpin Reince Priebus say that there are changes in the wind. Among those he mentioned was a shortened primary season, an end to the liberals controlling the debate formats and a much earlier date for the GOP convention. Those are all good ideas, and could go a long way to cut down on the backstabbing and bloodletting that invariably accompanies our internecine battles.

However, I would also suggest that the GOP finally grows up and puts a stop to the Iowa caucus, a charade that eats up enormous amounts of time and money, and doesn’t even result in the allocating of convention delegates.

As for New Hampshire, a tiny state that gets overinflated to such a degree that for a time during an election year, you would think it was the size of Texas or California. In fact it is no more entitled to hold the first primary than my big toe. At least my toe is representative of my foot, whereas New Hampshire is representative of nothing, including Vermont and Maine.

I will close with a bit of folk wisdom someone recently sent me: “A Liberal Paradise would be a place where everybody has guaranteed employment, free comprehensive healthcare, free education, free food, free housing, free clothing, free utilities; and only Law Enforcement has guns. Such a place does exist. It’s called prison.”

©2013 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? Write