Don’t Be Afraid of Steve Bannon

There is a tendency on the left to overestimate the abilities of conservative campaign gurus and spinmeisters after a bitter defeat. In the aughts, Karl Rove was seen as the Svengali mastermind of Republican politics, a nefarious force smarter and more cunning than all the left’s braintrust put together. It turned out not to be true. Karl Rove didn’t have “the math” and never really did: Rove mostly got lucky by a combination of butterfly ballots in Florida, and happening to hold power during a terrorist attack that saw Democrats cowed into submission rather than holding the president and his team accountable for their failure to protect the country.

Steve Bannon is taking on a similar mystique for some. But Bannon is no more special than Rove. Yes, Bannon saw what most of the left’s most prominent pundits and consultants could not: that Donald Trump could easily win the presidency by playing to racist and anti-elitist sentiments. That’s not so special, however: yours truly predicted the same thing, even down to detailing his path to victory, right here at Washington Monthly back in February 2016.

Like Rove, Bannon’s success is part insight and part luck. Without the intervention of a great many factors, including but not limited to Russian interference, Comey’s letter, depressed Democratic turnout, and errors in messaging and campaign mechanics by his opponent, Trump would not be president. As it is, he still lost by over three million votes, and required a narrow electoral college bank shot to seize the presidency. Since then, his administration has been a complete disaster. Trump has sunk to abysmal approval ratings despite an economy that is strong by traditional metrics, and without an overt policy blunder like the Iraq War. Instead, Trump’s decline has been entirely self-inflicted, largely through the pursuit of overtly racist idiocies prompted by the likes of Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Which brings us to today. Bannon is “going to war” with the GOP establishment, even going so far as to countermand Trump’s own endorsement in the Alabama Senate race and force the president to back a loser.

But his statements show that it’s all bluster and no real strategy. Democrats seem poised to take back Congress precisely because of Republican extremism, not because institutional Republicans are inadequately racist and nationalist.

And his prediction to the Values Voter Summit that Trump will win 400 electoral votes in 2020 is simply preposterous on its face. It’s no better than even odds that Trump will even finish out his term, much less sweep to a Reaganesque landslide in three years. During the same speech, Bannon quipped a line destined to be fodder for the inevitable 2018 campaign commercials accusing Trump of actively blowing up the ACA exchanges and driving up premiums in a bid to kill the program.

Like Karl Rove before him, Steven Bannon is a paper tiger. Democrats need only muster courage, conviction and hard work to teach him the same lesson they taught Rove in 2006.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.