Monday, October 16, 2017


It's understandable if you think that this CNN story is about the possibility that President Trump will be impeached -- after all, the headline is:
Trump Allies Worry That Losing the House Means Impeachment
But that's not really what the story is about. Let me give you some hints as to what it's really about:
Top White House aides, lawmakers, donors and political consultants are privately asking whether President Donald Trump realizes that losing the House next year could put his presidency in peril....

Donors who trekked to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in support of House Speaker Paul Ryan were treated to a slide show late this summer to fundraise off those very fears, according to multiple attendees. Among the slides: An overview of the Democrats who would be tapped to lead key committees if the GOP loses control, including Rep. Elijah Cummings as the head of the House Oversight Committee.

To some attendees, the subtext was clear. If Republicans forfeit the House, Democrats will almost certainly create a spectacle that will derail conservatives' agenda and the remainder of Trump's first term -- a spectacle complete with a raft of new subpoenas, a spotlight on the Russia investigation and, many are convinced, impeachment proceedings....

Alex Conant, a partner at GOP public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies, said Trump should focus on protecting his own party.

"The number one thing Trump should be doing to save his presidency is helping congressional Republicans maintain their majorities," Conant said. "Instead he's allowing his allies like Steve Bannon to really undermine Republican reelection campaigns. It's just reckless and politically naive considering how devastating it would be to his presidency."

...A number of Republicans asked not to have their names used in order to speak candidly about a sensitive topic.

"If we lose the House, he could get impeached. Do you think he understands that?" one top GOP donor recalled an exasperated Republican senator saying privately.

"Won't it be ironic that Steve Bannon helped get the President elected and impeached?" another top Republican official said in a moment of venting.
This isn't a story about Trump and impeachment. It's a story about the war between Steve Bannon and the Republican establishment.

Bannon is selling his scorched-earth, primary-'em-all strategy as the way to elect Republicans who'll support and protect Trump. At the same time, donors who've given to incumbent Republicans in the past are withholding cash until they see some legislative results.

How can establishment Republicans keep the money spigot flowing? Answer: Tell donors that Bannon and his candidates will cause Republicans to lose the House.

Even when you can't detect the subtext in the CNN story, it's there. This seems like straightforward concern about Trump:
"It will be on steroids, the amount of lawyers, investigations, inspector generals that come out of the woodwork" if Democrats win back the House, predicted Sara Fagen, who served as Bush's White House political director. "It will be very debilitating in a way they don't understand yet."
But note that Fagan, who is now a consultant, was on CNBC doing a dance of joy on the day Bannon was booted from the White House:

And there was this:

The war between Bannon and the GOP establishment is also woven into Jane Mayer's big New Yorker story "The Dangers of President Pence," in which we're told that the vice president and possible 46th president is a tool of the Koch brothers in a way that Trump isn't:
During the campaign, Trump said that Republican rivals who attended secretive donor summits sponsored by the Kochs were “puppets.” The Kochs, along with several hundred allied donors, had amassed nearly nine hundred million dollars to spend on the Presidential election, but declined to support Trump’s candidacy. At one point, Charles Koch described the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton as one between “cancer or heart attack.”

Marc Short, the head of legislative affairs in the Trump White House, credits Pence for the Kochs’ rapprochement with Trump. “The Kochs were very excited about the Vice-Presidential pick,” Short told me. “There are areas where they differ from the Administration, but now there are many areas they’re partnering with us on.” ... Bannon is ... alarmed at the prospect of a Pence Presidency. He told me, “I’m concerned he’d be a President that the Kochs would own.”
Bannon thinks money should flow his way, ostensibly because he thinks the Kochs and their candidates are falling down on the job of making America great again and are not giving Trump enough support. (It seems to me that what Bannon really wants, using \ the money of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, is to build his own Koch network. But it's possible this is about more than his ambitions.) In any case, Bannon thinks his candidates (and his efforts to make unswerving loyalty to Trump a litmus test for Republicans) are going to save Trump, not destroy him.

I'd say "Pass the popcorn" if I didn't think that it makes no difference who wins these skirmishes -- Republican voters will vote for whoever wins these contested primaries, and the outcome of the midterms will depend on whether Democrats can increase their usual off-year turnout, not on how nutty GOP general-election candidates are. But the battle matters a lot to the candidates and consultants. Sooner or later, Bannon will be absorbed into the establishment, but for now he's got the war he wants.

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