Mitch McConnell mocks Steve Bannon as 'political genius' who 'threw away' Alabama Senate seat

No love lost between the party leader and former top Trump aide 

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Friday 22 December 2017 21:02 GMT
'Political genius': Senate Leader Mitch McConnell mocks Steve Bannon

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mocked former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon for promoting a Republican candidate who lost in deeply conservative Alabama.

“The political genius on display, throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America, is hard to ignore,” Mr McConnell told reporters. The unlikely victory by Democrat Doug Jones shaved Mr McConnell's already-tenuous majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Formerly a top campaign adviser and aide to Mr Trump, Mr Bannon left the White House and has continued to promote a nationalist agenda from atop the website Breitbart — an agenda that often clashes with the views of a Republican leadership Mr Bannon openly despises. He has said it is a “season of war against a GOP establishment”.

The Alabama Senate race put those fractures in the Republican Party on vivid display. Mr Bannon championed far-right candidate Roy Moore throughout the race, breaking with establishment Republicans like Mr McConnell.

Voters sided with Mr Bannon during the primary, elevating Mr Moore over the more centrist Luther Strange, who drew the backing of party grandees including Mr Trump himself.

Mr Moore was already problematic for some Republicans because of his controversial history: he was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying the law, said a Muslim person should not be allowed to serve in Congress and called for homosexuality to be outlawed.

But he became toxic to Mr McConnell and others in the party leadership after allegations emerged he had engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls (Mr Moore denied the accusations, saying “I have never engaged in sexual misconduct”).

But Mr Bannon’s website, Breitbart, dispatched journalists to try and discredit reporting around those allegations, and Mr Bannon himself continued campaigning with Mr Moore until the end, when voters rejected his chosen candidate.

Soon after those results came in, verifying that Republicans had surrendered a seat in a state where victories are almost automatic, allies of Mr McConnell began blaming Mr Bannon. The head of a McConnell-aligned political committee that seeks to elect Senate Republicans released a statement that evening blasting Mr Bannon.

“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco,” said Senate Leadership Fund CEO Steven Law, who served as Mr McConnell’s chief of staff.

While Mr Moore has not yet conceded the race, continuing to appeal to his supporters, the Alabama Secretary of State said in a statement that Democrat Doug Jones' victory would be certified next week.

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