There’s been a lot (a lot) of chatter about Steve Bannon’s appearance on 60 Minutes as well as his threat to challenge every Republican member of Congress who doesn’t support Trump’s agenda.
We’ll get to the elephant in the room later (the cost), but for now, let’s break a few things down as we look for exactly what Bannon is saying.
Let’s start with the Trump agenda. We know what the campaign trail promises were and are: The Wall, the repeal of Obamacare, tax reform and good judges. That’s a broad brushstroke, but pretty much covers what Trump voters thought they were getting when they voted for him. That and “Not Hillary.” And Making America Great Again. For all the die hard Trump supporters, hang with me to the end. I do have some good news for you.
We know how this all unfolded in the first few weeks with a somewhat muddled attempt to repeal Obamacare that wasn’t really a repeal, but some weak sauce replacement bill that did nothing to lower premiums or implement any free market solutions. We now know Steve Bannon was on the Hill attempting to twist conservative Members’ arms to vote for it, begging the question of how much daylight is there between 1) conservatism, 2) the Trump agenda and 3) just getting something done to get something done. Chew on that one and Bannon’s role in it for a while as I shift gears.
Next comes The Wall. Unless Trump and his administration are going to get comfortable with shutting down the government (which, mind you, isn’t really a shutdown until Social Security checks don’t go out), there isn’t going to be a wall.
Then there’s tax reform. Lord knows where that is going given the recent news stories here and here. It already appears to have the whiff of the Obamacare “repeal”: Pass it and then find out what is really in it. So, in other words, we might not be looking at legitimate tax reform after all.
Then judges. Okay, I have to admit, Neil Gorsuch was a home run. Leonard Leo and Don McGahn did an excellent job on the short list for the President to choose from. With dozens more appointments left, however, in the lower federal courts, it remains to be seen how hard the President is going to push to get those filled with good, young, Constitutionalists. He will have to take the gloves off to make it happen. Will he?
So, let’s run through the announced Trump agenda one more time.
Obamacare Repeal: Not happening
The Wall: Not happening
Tax Reform: The right thing needs to happen or nothing at all.
Judges: One home run in the first inning, eight more innings to go.
Then we have a glimpse of the real Trump agenda every day-his Twitter account. We saw it with the DACA order. First it was, “YES!” by his supporters to “Wait, what did he just say?!” to wringing of hands, “Whaaaatttt did he just say?!!” to stony silence.
Add to it the deals struck with the Democrats on the debt ceiling, the budget and DACA and the wall and we have Trump supporters running around talking about “Americanism.” Think nationalism with an American twist. I think. I don’t know what that even means. It could be the political version of “climate change.”
After all this, can you without a reasonable doubt answer the question, “What is the Trump agenda?” I’ll answer for you. No, you can’t. But I think I can give you a glimpse of what I think Trump really cares about: de-regulation, beating the crap out of bad guys and tax cuts. Numbers one and three have the potential to free up the markets and with it the economy and people vote with their wallets. The second is just good policy.
But, back to Bannon, who is going to challenge GOP members based on the fact that they don’t support the Trump agenda. Well, the good news is for those getting challenged, wait 24 hours and they might find themselves on the correct side of the Trump agenda.
Let’s get down to the brass tacks of who will be funding all this. Given Bannon’s relationship with the Mercer family, he may have a decent amount of resources to call upon in this venture. He also may not. Yesterday’s story about the first ad being run by the Bannon vehicle, Great America Alliance, in the Alabama Senate race raised a few eyebrows. Yep, tough ad. No mention of how much money is being put behind it with Roy Moore holding a double digit lead. If your first swing is an ad with no mention of how much is being put behind it, this means two things in politics: you are looking for earned media and/or you are currently fundraising to back the ad.
Let’s not forget that Strange is the candidate endorsed by Trump for whom Trump recorded a robocall before the August primary. The Alabama primary is an easy target at this stage given the poll numbers, so put a marker down on this one to see how much money is put behind the ad while also keeping in mind that many incumbent GOP Senators have multi-million dollar war chests against what will likely be $2-3 million in the Great America Alliance.
Bannon and his allies may then pivot to, “We don’t need as much as they do because we will have the Trump grassroots with us!” Except for the Trump grassroots are currently scratching their heads wondering what the Trump agenda is. That sort of doubt creates a serious problem in the motivation column. Getting rid of incumbents is virtually impossible to begin with. Add to it lack of funds and a confused base and you get my point.
Now, to put a fine point on it, let’s revisit one more time the Bannon boast that he will primary all those who don’t support a Trump agenda. Would it not have been better for him to have said, “I will primary anyone who does not support a legitimate repeal of Obamacare or tax reform?” Or, I would have settled for, “We will challenge anyone who ran as a Republican but has not governed as one.”
Why “the Trump agenda” when no one knows exactly what it is?
Or does Steve Bannon just want to see the world burn?