In the days leading up to the heated Republican Alabama Senate primary, former White House strategist Steve Bannon stood with his candidate Roy Moore, triumphantly warning GOP leaders in Washington, “your day of reckoning is coming.”
Since Moore’s primary, the former state Supreme Court judge has been accused of preying on teenage girls decades ago. And Bannon hasn’t set foot in Alabama since for the candidate he called “one of the finest men in this country.”
Bannon hasn’t yanked his support for Moore, but if he’s standing by him, it’s at a distance. Associates say he has no plans to campaign in the state before the Dec. 12 election. Meanwhile, his public statements have gone from glowing endorsements of Moore to broadsides against Democratic contender Doug Jones.
The shift reflects the high stakes for Bannon in the race. By backing the renegade Moore, Bannon transformed the sleepy special election into the first battle in what he calls his war on the establishment. But the accusations against Moore have turned what should have been an easy win for Republicans into a nail-biter, and raise the possibility that Bannon will emerge from his first effort bruised and blamed.
The former adviser to President Donald Trump is already moving on, looking past the Alabama election and trying to raise money and build momentum for the next round.
“Bannon has been traveling nonstop, giving speeches across the country and the world,” as well as meeting with donors and political operators, said Andrew Surabian, a Bannon associate and adviser to the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump political organization. “We all know what he wants to accomplish. He’s setting the stage for that.”
Bannon pounced on Moore’s Sept. 26 victory over hand-picked interim Sen. Luther Strange as justification for the war he since declared on Republican leadership in Congress, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He blames the Kentucky Republican chiefly for Trump’s stalled legislative agenda and has promised to find pro-Trump challengers for almost every GOP senator seeking re-election next year, with the goal of dumping McConnell.
Through the pro-Trump group Great America Alliance and as executive chairman of Breitbart News, he has endorsed Senate candidates in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. He expects to soon name his picks in Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio.
To be sure, Bannon’s influence continues through Brietbart’s continued presence in the race. Several staffers from the conservative website, including Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, remain on the ground in Alabama, publishing multiple daily dispatches.
But Bannon himself been everywhere but Alabama, it seems, rallying conservative Republican audiences in Arizona, California, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina. He’s even addressed conservative groups in Japan, where he’s headed again early next month.
Aides say Bannon plans to establish himself as the go-to speaker at fundraisers for devoutly pro-Trump Republicans this winter. The first such event is for New York Rep. Lee Zeldin on Dec. 14.
Not only has Bannon steered clear of Alabama, his tone toward Moore has gradually shifted. On primary night, he praised “the model of Judge Moore” as an anti-establishment candidate. Now he’s merely the alternative to an unacceptable and “radical” Democratic candidate.
His gradual switch is in line with his former boss. Despite GOP senators and party leaders calling for Moore to quit the race, Trump has not. The president has said he takes Moore at his word in denying the accusations. Trump also has no plans to campaign in Alabama, the White House said Monday.
By apparently sticking with Moore, albeit far less publicly than in September, Bannon, too, is nodding to his conservative audience, but trying to limit his exposure to the fallout from Moore’s crisis.
Bannon early on cast doubt on Moore’s accusers, declaring: “Until I see additional evidence on Judge Moore, I’m standing with him.”
Weeks later, after other women had come forward alleging unwanted advances by Moore as teens, Bannon, like Trump, focused on the Democrat.
“Doug Jones is a radical on guns, on abortion, on borders,” Bannon said Thursday during a guest spot on Breitbart Radio. “I just can’t understand how the people of Alabama, being one of the bedrocks of the conservative movement, would even consider a guy like Doug Jones.”
Similarly, the Bannon-affiliated Great America Alliance has been quiet in the state since the primary, after orchestrating the Bannon rally and another in September featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and running an ad during the widely watched Sept. 16 University of Alabama football game.
But Bannon need not wade again deeply into a race he already helped shape by denouncing McConnell’s hand-picked candidate, said Sam Nunberg, a Bannon confidant and former Trump campaign aide. Bannon helped defeat Strange, Nunberg said. “Everyone knows where Steve stands.”