Roy Moore scandal in Alabama might slow Bannon’s insurgency, GOP leaders hope

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

The explosive allegations of sexual misconduct against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore may have an unintended casualty: Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump who is leading an insurgency against the GOP establishment.

At least, that’s what Bannon’s chief target, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is hoping.

When Bannon first backed Moore in the Republican Senate primary in Alabama, it looked like a shrewd move. Moore led in the polls by double digits in the runoff with Sen. Luther Strange, who’d been appointed to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

And Bannon was looking for a way to establish himself as a kingmaker, after leaving his post as senior White House adviser to President Trump.

When Bannon endorsed Moore, he told allies that he wasn’t opposing Strange — whom Trump backed — to spite the president.

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore greets supporters, Sept. 26, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP)

His real target was McConnell, he said, and he expanded on this theme in a highly publicized interview with “60 Minutes” in early September.

Days before Moore beat Strange in the primary runoff, Bannon said that those who wished to defeat Moore “cannot take the righteousness … people like Judge Moore represent.”

Moore’s decisive primary win helped cement the idea that Bannon was now a powerful figure on the right whose endorsement would be key for Republican candidates. It was a step toward wresting control of the GOP from McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

McConnell’s allies hit back in late October. An outside group that supports the Senate leader, the Senate Leadership Fund, began criticizing Bannon on Twitter and said it planned to run ads in Republican primaries against Bannon-endorsed candidates, such as Kelli Ward in Arizona.

“Bannon’s well-documented, toxic views and alt-right paper trail could become a liability for candidates who are perceived as closely tied to him,” SLF President Steven Law told the Washington Post at the time.

On Thursday, McConnell and his Republican Senate colleagues were quick to distance themselves from Moore after the Post reported on four women who allege that Moore pursued them and initiated sexual contact when they were teenagers. One woman was 14 at the time, another 16.

“If these allegations are true, he must step aside,” McConnell said in a statement on behalf of all Senate Republicans.

Moore will face off against Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 special election.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., didn’t qualify or hedge his comments; he said unequivocally that Moore should drop his candidacy. “He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of,” McCain said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters about allegations made against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Nov. 9, 2017. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

McConnell allies wasted no time in piling on to make sure that Bannon’s name was dragged into the uproar over the allegations against Moore.

“Dear GOP, send your thank you cards to the Breitbart embassy attn: Steve Bannon,” tweeted Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff.

Holmes went further in a comment to the Post: “If it’s true, the GOP doesn’t have any place for pedophiles and he should step down immediately.”

And the SLF foreshadowed a possible line of attack in future campaign ads, contrasting Senate Republicans with Bannon’s Breitbart News, which defended Moore against the allegations.

SLF linked to a clip of Breitbart’s Joel Pollak downplaying the allegations against Moore.

“He’s being accused of relationships with teenagers. Now to me that’s not accurate,” Pollak said. “The 16-year old and the 18-year old have no business in that story because those are women of legal age of consent.”

SLF tweeted: “While Senate Republicans fight for @realDonaldTrump’s tax reform, Bannon’s @BreitbartNews is arguing the age of consent for teens.”

Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.

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