Steve Bannon is a misunderstood man.
For most people, he is a symbol of the hyper-partisanship running roughshod in the country, the architect of Donald Trump’s “us vs them” campaign in 2016.
And, sure, Bannon doesn’t like Democrats. At all. But Bannon’s true passion is not the destruction of the Democratic Party. It’s the destruction of the Republican Party.
Bannon’s real motives were on display Tuesday night in Alabama as he campaigned for embattled Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore. Time after time, he lashed out at Republican leaders — in often deeply personal tones.
Here are a few of Bannon’s more over-the-top attacks:
On Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake: “Jeff Flake, wrote a check today — are you kidding me? If you are going to write a check, write a check. Flake has hated Donald Trump since day one. Trashed all the deplorables. Trashed everybody associated with this movement. Jeff Flake has done nothing but run the President of the United States down until the President won.”
On 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney: “Mitt — you avoided service. Mitt, here’s how it is brother, you went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity. Where were the Romneys during those wars? Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in his pinky finger than your entire family has in its whole DNA.”
On Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Mitch, you owe your job to Donald J. Trump. He doesn’t care about that. The Republican establishment campaigned for a Democrat for four solid weeks. The folks of Alabama were always going to decide, Mitch. You know what changed their minds? They hold you in total contempt. Remember, it’s not Judge Moore that they are trying to shut up, it’s you they are trying to shut up.”
I mean. Holy cow.
The McConnell attack is pretty rough by normal standards. Citing the Senate majority leader’s opposition to Moore as the reason Moore is winning? But, compared to the Flake and the Romney attacks, it feels damn near positive.
Bannon calls Flake cheap for only writing a $100 check to Democrat Doug Jones. (Worth noting: Less than 10% of people have ever given any amount of money to a candidate or a party committee.)
But even that attack pales when compared to what Bannon said about Romney. Bannon makes it very clear that he believes Romney hid behind his Mormonism to avoid serving in Vietnam. And Bannon attacks Romney’s sons for not serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. (What Bannon seems blissfully unaware of is the fact that Trump received five deferments to avoid Vietnam and neither of his two adult sons served in the military, either.)
That’s remarkably tough stuff. It’s not just an attack on Romney but on Mormonism and the mission process at the heart of the faith.
And it’s prompted a series of defenses from Romney allies. “Steve Bannon’s attacks on Governor Romney and his service are disappointing and unjustified,” said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in a statement Wednesday.
The chances that rebukes from the likes of Hatch will slow Bannon’s roll are virtually nonexistent. Bannon takes pleasure in causing outrage among people like Romney and Hatch. Their condemnation fuels him. It’s his lifeblood.
To understand why, you have to understand how Bannon views the world. (To fully do that, you need to read Josh’s Green seminal “Devil’s Bargain.”) Sure, Democrats are bad and misguided. But Bannon never trusted them to do the right thing in the first place. Republicans, to Bannon’s mind, should know better. They should be committed to holding strong on their principles. Their betrayal is more painful — and therefore elicits more anger from Bannon — because they should be fighting right alongside him — and instead they are working to undermine him.
In short: You can only hate people who you really know well. Or, put another way: The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.
Bannon hates the Republican establishment. He views Trump’s election as a major step toward its destruction. But he also believes his work is not done. Moore’s candidacy — and the attempts by the establishment to end it following a series of allegations from women that Moore pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers, which he denies — is the next battlefront for Bannon.
This is Bannon’s civil war. And he’s positioned himself as the chesty general leading his troops into battle. What’s fascinating is that he’s gleefully taking the fight to the people wearing the same uniform as he is.