The Conservative Party in the UK is very much like the Republican Party in terms of policies and ideas. Now it shares another distinction: the growing prospect of internal divisions and civil war over unpopular leaders and controversial legislation. For the GOP, their conflict will be messier and more divisive as Steve Bannon, former Breitbart editor and ousted advisor to Donald Trump, threatens to bring down the GOP establishment and its leadership.
Bannon’s plan is simply to encourage candidates that share his, and probably Trump’s, more extreme views to run for public office. Setting them against the GOP, Bannon hopes to bring about change in the Republican Party and push them into the territory of the far-right. Bannon has vowed to support opponents to at least six Senators facing re-election in 2018.
Roy Moore, the Trump-like candidate running for Sessions’ Senate seat in Alabama, is a prime example of this kind of plan. Luther Strange, the GOP’s actual candidate, lost the primary despite the backing of the GOP leadership, a larger funding pool and the half-hearted support of Donald Trump himself.
Such a plan is deeply worrying to many moderates in the GOP as well as their leadership. Moore’s victory was a sign that the forces that brought Trump to power are running out of control and affecting their chances. Trump blames the lack of victories at their door and rails against his own party, fostering resentment in many Senators and Congressmen.
Of course, part of the problem is Donald Trump and who he’s likely to support. While he would prefer to not take sides or support both equally, Trump is not exactly a man to equivocate. Who he supports will say a lot about whether he’s willing to work with the GOP or supports Bannon’s call for civil war. Supporting the incumbents would give the GOP hope but they shouldn’t count on Trump’s support.
Many in the party are also counting the cost of failure. On the one hand, their failure to repeal and replace Obamacare along with the stumbles in the administration adds fuel to Bannon’s fire. On the other hand, the GOP is fully aware of the damage being caused by their reckless and heartless leader. On top of that, the tax reform is faltering and risks delays after Trump struck his debt ceiling deal with the Democrats and refused to certify Iran’s nuclear agreement. Congress has a full calendar before Christmas and more delays or defeats now will make things worse in the long run.
Interestingly, Ted Cruz is conspicuous in his absence from Bannon’s hit-list. Perhaps, even Bannon is unwilling to try and dethrone one of America’s most unpopular Republicans. Or perhaps he is willing to defend the man’s record if you can call it that.
There is a growing feeling in the GOP leadership that extreme candidates in their party will not only make their job more difficult but might hand Democrats a road to victory and regain power in Congress.
The signs have been ominous with the Democrats looking to set to gain the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey while Doug Jones is predicted to stage an possible upset against Roy Moore and take Alabama for the Democrats. A generic poll has put the Democrat 14 points ahead of the Republicans which, although questionable, is likely to cause sleepless nights in the White House. Certainly, the Democrats are on a rebound, harnessing anti-Trump feeling and exploiting the cracks that Bannon is using.
Republicans have precious few choices. Bipartisanship offers a way out but it means dancing with the devil and giving in on key points. For example, the new bipartisan deal over insurance subsidies for Obamacare means that Republicans have to choose between letting their voters die because of high premiums or bailing out insurance companies. Similarly, discussions over Iran’s nuclear deal and the status of ‘Dreamers’ is set to make life difficult for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.
The easiest solution is to push back against Steve Bannon and convince him not to follow through with his plan. It’s certainly possible but given the stakes involved, it’ll take a lot of doing from McConnell. If nothing gets done or more legislation flounders, Bannon may find more cause to challenge Republicans.
As Abraham Lincoln himself once put, a house divided against itself cannot stand. So let it be with the GOP. Between Bannon’s call for war and the establishment trying to hold on, something has to give. The forces that elected Trump are out of control and they are coming for the Republicans. Both sides are fighting for survival and blood will be drawn.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the GOP civil war. The Republican Party of old has lost its purpose. It has strayed disastrously from its founder’s ideals. The glory days are behind it and now it faces new threats and radical changes. It’s a lose-lose situation. Bannon’s ideas will be shunned by most decent Americans while the establishment is tainted over Trump’s conduct and divided over its response.
If the in-fighting ends, the real winners may be the Democrats when 2018 rolls around and Trump will be just like Obama, seeing his legislation stalled and delayed even more. Trump will be even angrier than before at that prospect or he may make his own U-turns and work with them.
Bannon has sown the wind and now he’s reaping the storm. The GOP better hope they can weather it.