In his Alabama appearance for Roy Moore, Steve Bannon turned in an intellectually and morally putrid performance even by his standards.
There is a partisan case for voting for Moore, which is simply that Republicans can’t afford to lose a Senate seat over the next three years and Moore’s failings must be ignored or rationalized away for the larger good of the party.
This isn’t an elevated line of reasoning and is not obviously correct on its own terms. With Democrats throwing John Conyers and Al Franken overboard, Senate Republicans would be welcoming into their ranks a potent symbol of sexual malfeasance to be used against them in the 2018 midterms.
It’s a better argument, though, than the tawdry justifications offered up by Bannon, who parachuted into an already disreputable campaign and dragged it through the gutter.
Bannon seems to misunderstand the nature of the deplorables he seeks to lead. “Deplorable” is supposed to be an unfair, disparaging term for people who believe reasonable but politically incorrect things (immigration should be restricted, NFL players should stand during the national anthem, all lives matter, etc.). It shouldn’t be a license for doing truly deplorable things.
At least some Democrats now want to jettison Bill Clinton and say they were wrong to defend him during his scandals. For his part, Bannon wants to pick up the ethics of the party of Clinton and transfer them into the GOP.
In Alabama, Bannon used that phrase redolent of the 1990s, “the politics of personal destruction.” Who is doing the destroying? Why the globalists, of course. There’s nothing they aren’t capable of.
It’s not clear why the globalists would be so fixated on defeating Moore that they’d work behind the scenes to get a bunch of women — and corroborating witnesses — who don’t know each other to lie about Moore having a romantic interest in them when they were teenagers. It seems a lot of effort to defeat a man who’s arguing he should be elected to provide another vote for corporate tax cuts.
Bannon referred to a conspiracy against President Trump in the way the “Access Hollywood” tape was brought to light, somewhat jocularly. But his mindset is deeply conspiratorial. Because there are so many forces arrayed against you — the globalists, the establishment, the media — you’re freed of any moral responsibility or standards.
In fact, the mere mention of the words “honor” or “integrity” is a terrible provocation. Bannon launched his scurrilous attack on Mitt Romney because the former Republican presidential nominee used those terms in opposing Moore. Bannon shot back, in a truly perverse riff, that Moore has more honor in his “pinkie” than the entire Romney clan; per Bannon, Moore served in Vietnam and Romney didn’t, and none of Romney’s sons joined the military.
Obviously, if going to Vietnam and having kids who served in the military is the sole measure of honor, Trump fails the test, and John McCain passes it. This doesn’t stop Bannon from considering Trump the great savior of the republic and McCain a disgrace. But it’s not worth trying too hard to unpack Bannon’s spiel.
There’s a huge element of play-acting here. Bannon waited to see which way the wind was blowing in Alabama.
If Moore were still running consistently behind Democrat Doug Jones, Bannon wouldn’t be holding a campaign rally for him and challenging Romney to come down to Alabama to prove his manhood. He’d be looking to minimize the damage and shift the blame (the advantage of the specter of an all-powerful establishment is that it can be blamed for anything).
Privately, Bannon can’t be thrilled he’s stuck with Moore, and he must know Moore is a kook, even if he can’t admit it in public. Bannon likes to attack everyone else in the party for lacking courage, but in Alabama, he’s afraid to admit he backed a bum candidate and afraid to acknowledge the truth about Moore.
The urgency to get the party to back Moore-type candidates isn’t immediately apparent. If the point is just to hold Republican Senate seats, safer, more conventional Republicans are better suited to the task. If the point is just to support the Trump agenda, safer, more conventional candidates are as reliable, and perhaps more reliable than the likes of Moore, who opposed the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill. (“Rand Paul praises Roy Moore for opposing ObamaCare repeal effort” is how one headline put it at the time.)
Part of the point has to be to elect candidates who have no standards for the sake of it. Bannon may be thinking ahead to a time when the Trump sex allegations become a live issue again or when a true scandal emerges from the Robert Mueller investigation. In this scenario, will there be anyone more naturally inclined to be dismissive of the accusers or other evidence than former Judge Roy Moore?
Bannon may also believe that a GOP with a highly attuned ethical sense can’t truly be the party of the working class. In which case, who is the one who has contempt for the “rubes”?