Steve Bannon Unchained: George W. Bush Was Most "Destructive" President, California Will Try to Secede from U.S.

On Friday night, Stephen K. Bannon came to Southern California, where the political careers of Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan were born, to outline a vision of the Republican Party that neither icon of 20th century conservatism would have recognized. He harshly insulted another, less revered Republican president, George W. Bush, and maligned Sen. John McCain as largely clueless about the state of global affairs. Throughout the evening, he delighted in his role as an iconoclast willing to destroy the Republican Party in order to, in his view, save the nation.

“The permanent political class that runs this country is one of the great dangers we face,” Bannon said during the approximately 40-minute address. He said the U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, “has done a terrible job” at supporting the agenda of President Donald J. Trump, for whom Bannon served as a campaign manager and, later, as chief White House political strategist. But he also promised that the right-wing Republican candidates he plans to groom for the 2018 election will show fealty to the president and, in doing so, usher in a decades-long period of GOP dominance.

“Nancy Pelosi is not going to get her opportunity to impeach the President of the United States,” he assured, alluding to the Democratic House leader from San Francisco.

Speaking briskly, moving fluently between topics and ideas, Bannon articulated Trump’s promise more powerfully than Trump has generally shown the ability to do. “Donald Trump is an existential threat to the system,” Bannon said, pacing the stage at a ballroom in the Anaheim Marriott, dressed in his customary black sports jacket and tan khakis, at times sounding less like a political strategist than an evangelist or an especially impassioned college professor.

"The Republican establishment is finally getting the joke,” he warned. “They're going to have to step it up.” Later, he said that when it came to upcoming congressional contests, campaign funds disbursed by traditional Republican organs would mean nothing. Loyalty to Trump’s agenda, on the other hand, will mean everything. That primarily involves, in Bannon’s view, an economic nationalism that can accommodate people of all colors, races and sexual orientations—as long as they are citizens of the United States.

Bannon delivered his remarks at the opening banquet of 2017 convention of the California Republican Party. The convention’s theme is “Electing Republicans in a Blue State,” which is likely to pose a significant challenge in the foreseeable future. The Golden State is solidly blue, with a Democratic supermajority in the legislature, a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators in Washington. The last Republican of consequence to hold elected office in California was Arnold Schwarzenegger, who governed the state from 2003 until 2011.

Bannon did not come to Anaheim to help elect the next Schwarzenegger, whose liberal positions on marriage equality, climate change and immigration would almost certainly have him branded a “cuck” (that is, a conservative lacking sufficiently conservative convictions) or a “globalist” from Bannon’s Breitbart News.

He certainly showed little affection for other moderate Republicans. In recent days, both Bush and McCain had given speeches denouncing the very brand of nationalism that Bannon instilled in Trump.

Bush gave a well-received speech in New York on Thursday in which he did not reference Trump. Yet nobody missed his ominous allusions to “resurgent ethno-nationalism” and “casual cruelty” in the public discourse.

“That’s a piece of work,” Bannon said of the speech. He witheringly suggested that Bush did not have the intellectual capacity to understand his own words, written by a speechwriter as they presumably were. “There has not been a more destructive presidency than George W. Bush’s,” Bannon opined.

Bannon was careful to praise McCain, who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and is now battling brain cancer. But after the customary shows of deference, he proceeded to mock McCain as “Pericles in Athens,” branding his vision of national unity “happy talk.”

Full of bluster and certitude, Bannon reminded the several hundred Republicans who’d come from around the state to hear him speak exactly what makes him an even more divisive figure than Trump. Bannon left the White House in August, having reportedly been marginalized by new chief of staff Gen. John F. Kelly. Returning to Breitbart News, where he’d served as the executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign in its final stages, he promised “war” on the Republican establishment.

For all his bugle calls, however, it is not clear that he will be able to achieve the sweeping victories he has promised. Even in the reliably Republican state of Alabama, his chosen candidate, Roy S. Moore, has seen his lead against Democratic challenger Doug Jones vanish, at least according to one poll. Bannon dismissed that poll as “fake news.”

“Victory begets victory,” he said on several occasions, recounting the successful electoral strategy that allowed Trump to win the Upper Midwest in last year’s presidential election. He was confident about far-right Senate candidates in Arizona and Tennessee. And he said that if Republicans were able to translate Trump’s vision into legislative victories, they would “govern for 50 to 75 years.”

He seemed to speak less to the audience before him, composed as it was of Californians, than to potential candidates, voters and donors around the nation. But in a nod to local concerns (if local is a word to be used in regard to the nation’s most populous state), he did warn that the recent designation of California as a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants would lead to a serious secession effort in 10 to 15 years, as the “elites” of Silicon Valley united with the state’s growing Latino population to break away from the United States. He called Silicon Valley “the beating heart of the resistance” to his own agenda of economic nationalism, presumably because of its free-trade, pro-immigration stance.

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And he advised that everyone in the audience read a New York magazine essay by Andrew Sullivan that had been published on the magazine’s website that morning. In that essay, Sullivan writes that Democrats’ support for undocumented immigrants could be “political suicide.”

Some have cheered Bannon’s martial tone, but others are wondering if tone is all he has. Jonah Goldberg, the mainstream conservative columnist, wrote in an op-ed earlier this week that it was nothing but “myth that Bannon is a master political strategist and a kingmaker in Republican politics.” Goldberg called Bannon a self-important opportunist whose skills as a political strategist have largely been exaggerated.

On Friday night, though, Bannon was the star, basking in the adulation of California’s besieged Republicans, promising glory.

“I don’t want moral victories,” he announced to the troops arrayed before him.

“I want victory victories.”

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