BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In the two months since he left the Trump administration, former White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon has become the most prominent leader of the GOP's "anti-establishment" wing. And despite being "shunted" from the White House, as The Washington Post characterized it, Bannon and President Donald Trump "are anything but estranged. Instead, they have remained in frequent contact, chatting as often as several times a week, according to multiple associates of both of them."
In Trump-initiated phone calls, "They chew over politics, float ideas and catch up on gossip," The Post reported. "They also each ask after the other to shared confidants and friends, not unlike teenagers checking to make sure the other is not upset or disapproving."
The Washington Post's Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker pointed out that "Trump and Bannon's evolving partnership — described by nine aides, friends and confidants, many of whom insisted on anonymity to offer a more candid portrait — is nuanced, combining tension with affection and, for now at least, is mutually beneficial."
"Bannon is now the de facto leader of the GOP insurgent wing," ABC News' The Note recently reported. "He's the go-to man for Republican primary challengers but with a critical twist: he still has the ear, and maybe the heart, of President Donald Trump himself."
With things going poorly between Trump and his Republican cohorts in Congress -- despite Trump's awkwardly staged Rose Garden meet-up with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- and with former White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon regaling partisan audiences across the country with his declaration of war on the Republican Party and "the permanent political class," will Trump and Bannon's "movement" ultimately morph into a third party, in time for the 2020 presidential campaign?
One thing that both Bannon and Trump recognize is that Trump supporters are loyal to Trump, not the Republican Party. "Moreover," a conservative friend suggested in an email, "if Trump dumps the GOP he neutralizes the anti-GOP rhetoric with which he is painted, and thus will able to generate even more independent and Dem crossover votes."
At the Christian Right's recently concluded Values Voter Summit, Trump, the first ever sitting president to appear in person at the gathering, was greeted warmly, stirring up the crowd of evangelicals with numerous "culture war" references. A day later, Bannon took the stage and also captivated the crowd. Both Trump and Bannon recognize that conservative Christian evangelicals contributed mightily to Trump's victory last November. Bannon, however, made it clear that he was looking for recruits for his quasi-populist, anti-immigration, nativist revolution.
At the California state Republican convention in mid-October, Bannon blasted the "permanent political class," embodied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as "one of the great dangers we face."
A while back, while watching Trump's rally in Phoenix, I turned to my wife, Gale, and said," Don't be totally shocked if Donald Trump splits from the Republican Party and decides to run as a third party candidate in 2020." This may have been impetuous and a hastily conceived notion, but in politics, stranger things have happened. What does he have to lose?
A few days after Phoenix, in his regular Sunday column in the San Francisco Chronicle, former SF mayor Willie Brown speculated similarly. Brown writing that "(t)he U.S. now has a third political party – it's called Trump." Brown, who served over 30 years in the California State Assembly, including 15 years as its speaker, looked at the subtle way Trump "repeatedly referred to his supporters at his Phoenix rally last week," calling them members of a "movement."
"And," added Brown, Trump has "no problem skewering Republican and Democrats alike." Brown went on to talk about how Trump "destroyed 15 credentialed Republicans on his march through the primaries." In recent days, Trump has called out Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake.
Each and every Trump shout out and tweet plays very well in the "movement," as did his recent pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial and racially motivated law enforcement official found in contempt of court.
At this point, there are still some differences between Bannon's approach – dump the elite scoundrels – and Trump, who still appears to support some GOP incumbents, including Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, officials that Bannon is considering challenging.
"The president can say, 'Well, that's Bannon being Bannon,' as opposed to, 'That's my chief strategist down the hall from me,'" said Ed Rollins, longtime GOP strategist and chairman of Great America PAC, a pro-Trump group. "The president has a responsibility of running the government. Bannon is free to throw rocks against the windows, which is sometimes more fun."
Thus far, chaos, curveballs, attacks on the media, incendiary tweets, and frustration have defined the administration.
But, as The Washington Post report noted, an invigorated Bannon has been "crisscrossing the country" with a "singular focus"; "trying to build the equivalent of his own political party, one that aims to explode the Republican establishment and what he and his allies dismiss as the 'McConnell industrial complex,' all while shrouding it in the cloak of advancing Trump's agenda."
As my conservative friend noted, "A sitting president as head of a third party? Talk about blowing up the swamp..."
If there is going to be a third party, it will be up to Steve Bannon to get the ball rolling. So far, it appears that Bannon is more than up to the task.