Bannon talk shows Trump attack on election could damage GOP long-term

Pressure aimed at Georgia governor, senators ahead of runoffs

Then-chief strategist Stephen Bannon at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Then-chief strategist Stephen Bannon at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 23, 2020 at 8:00am

ANALYSIS — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon laid out the president’s plan to overturn the election results during a call for prayer on Sunday night in an effort that has potential consequences for the GOP beyond January.

There are some Republicans ready to turn the page from President Donald Trump’s time in office. GOP leadership in the Senate is discouraging Republican senators from contesting any states during the Electoral College ratification on Jan. 6. And there’s other evidence of apathy about Trump slowly starting to emerge. “I am counting the days until he is gone,” a high-ranking Republican in Congress — who has been an ally of the president — told Jonathan Karl of ABC News

But based on Bannon’s comments, it’s going to be harder (or take longer) for the party to start a post-Trump chapter. While Bannon’s disdain for Democrats is clear (and he called Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams a “tough hombre”) in his 45 minutes worth of remarks, he trained most of his fire on Republicans. 

“There’s no need to talk about Insurrection Act. There’s no need to talk crazy talk right now,” Bannon told a group who gathered virtually for a Global Prayer for U.S. Election Integrity on Sunday night, according to a recording that was broadcast on The Eric Metaxas Radio Show on Monday. “We can do this with Republican legislatures and Republican governors.” 

Putting the burden for action on Republican state officials is the legacy of this fight.

While it’s never quite clear how close Bannon is to the president at any given time, the former Trump senior adviser’s sentiments align with other reporting about the president’s state of mind. 

Investigation could be lengthy

Overall, Bannon laid out a three-prong case to overturn the certified results: illegal voting, mail-in ballots and voting machines. He admitted that the third leg of the stool was less of a focus because the investigation could take “months, if not years” and time is of the essence. Bannon didn’t mention Newsmax’s lengthy on-air statement about not having evidence to back up its claims about Dominion and Smartmatic.

The other legs stand on a combination of GOP state legislators and governors in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin calling special sessions and decertifying Biden’s electors. The goal is to get the former vice president under the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win, force a contingent election, and somehow allow the U.S. House of Representatives to reelect Trump in a one-state-one-vote process — though the law may not work the way Bannon described it as working.

While he praised work being done by GOP Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Bannon called out Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Doug Ducey of Arizona for failing to support the cause and expressed frustration about Republicans’ unwillingness to act at the state level.

“Now is the time that people, and particularly Republican elected officials in the state legislatures, the governorships and members of Congress, have to stand, and they have to stand for the Constitution,” Bannon said. “Besides your prayers, any amount of pressure you can put on these people is what’s necessary.” 

“They will not listen to the people,” he continued about Republican elected officials. “We’ve got to put pressure on them and we’ve got two weeks to do it.” 

Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges and could be angling for a pardon from his former boss, asserted that 20 percent of Trump voters had “had it” with Republican inaction.

At the end of the call, Metaxas said the entire analysis was “basically nonpartisan” because Bannon called out leaders of both parties. The fact of the matter is that Republicans can’t afford to have 20 percent, or even 5 percent, of their voters not show up. It’s a recipe for life in the minority and out of the White House.

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Pressure on Georgia

Kemp is up for reelection in 2022. He was first elected in 2018, when he beat Abrams by 1.5 points. This year, Biden won Georgia by less than half of 1 percent. Ducey won reelection by 14 points in 2018, but Republicans can’t afford to have any slippage in Arizona now that Democrats have won two consecutive competitive Senate races and Biden won the state narrowly. Eight states were decided by less than 5 points in this year’s presidential race.

Bannon’s rhetoric and strategy could have near-term implications for the two Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia. “I wouldn’t lift a finger for Perdue or for Loeffler unless they did three things that they haven’t done,” said Bannon. He demanded both senators immediately call for a special session of the state legislature to hear evidence of voter fraud, publicly agree with incoming Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama (who has suggested he’ll contest the results), and back Trump appointing special prosecutors to investigate election fraud and the Biden family. 

Bannon isn’t the only one describing a schism in the GOP. “The Republican Party is splintered right now, and I think it will continue to splinter more depending on what happens with President Trump,” Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia told the Christian Science Monitor. “If he’s not in the White House over the next four years, you’re going to see his base, the MAGA base, continue to grow.” If that base grows away from Republicans, it will be difficult to regain control of the executive and legislative branches of government. This tension within the GOP is the result of the party becoming primarily the following of a person rather than an ideology.

To win the presidential race, targeting Republicans to act at the state level is not a terrible strategy for Trump considering his team’s lack of success in the courts up to this point. But Republicans who think this will all go away after a Jan. 6 ratification or a Biden inauguration are fooling themselves. 

Fight past Jan. 20

First of all, don’t expect a concession. “He is not going to back down. He will never concede. And I will tell you, in the small chance we don’t win this, he will never sit on that stage and participate in inauguration,” according to Bannon. Of course, a Trump concession isn’t necessary, and the president’s presence on the stage at the inauguration isn’t required for Biden to take office. But it would be a historic moment. 

Second, inauguration won’t stop people who see this as a fight between good and evil. “We will never ever ever allow Biden to really take control of this government. We will fight this every day, we will fight this every day, even past Jan. 20,” said Bannon. 

There were other facts that Bannon just got wrong.

When reminiscing about the surprise win in 2016, Bannon said Trump was down 12 to 14 points to Hillary Clinton in the middle of August. Trump was down 8 points on Aug. 15, according to the Real Clear Politics national average, which is where he was for most of that month.

Bannon claimed that Trump received almost 50 percent of the Hispanic vote in the recent elections. According to the exit polls, Biden won the Latino vote 65 percent to 32 percent. In the same part of the conversation, Bannon predicted Republicans could receive between 50 and 60 percent of Hispanic vote in 2022, along with one-third of the Black vote (which would be an increase from Trump’s 12 percent this year) and a majority of the Asian vote (Biden won those voters 61-34 percent in November).

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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