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The Bannon effect.

October 16, 2017

Who elected Steve Bannon to anything? That’s a question being heard a lot, but not from the left.

While watching clips of Steve Bannon’s speech at the Values Voter Summit,  one man observed “Nobody died and made you God bub. My senators have voted with Trump since Day One, so buzz off!”

Mr. Bannon risks running afoul of something he apparently thinks he single-handedly capitalized on during the election…the thinking voter.

Listening to him over the past few months one gets the impression he thinks he alone put Donald Trump in the White House.

Skeptical voters opine that it’s more likely that Trump gave him a stage for his far-right radical views, something they hope the President eschews going forward. They have a point.

Bannon’s scorched earth policy.

With the exception of a comparatively small percentage that openly hold Bannon’s somewhat extreme opinions, there seem to be a lot of people wondering why, if he’s going to primary someone, he doesn’t back credible challengers in Democratic districts.  Many  Democrats are running either unopposed or against poorly funded GOP challengers.

Admittedly, there is an entrenched “establishment” group in the Senate that seems to be just as much “Never Trump” as their Democrat counterparts, but it’s hardly the whole Republican part of the Senate. Furthermore, not all of them are running this time around, including John McCain, one of the far-right’s most visible targets.

Fine. Then campaign against the members of that group who are running, if you must. But declaring war on every Republican except Ted Cruz is likely to result in fewer Republicans in 2019, not more.

Presidential performance exceeding voter expectations?

One thing that many marginal Trump voters worried about before voting last November,  was that Trump was just running to make a big splash but would then forget everything he ever knew about the art of the deal if he won.

Most of those people note that he has often given the members of BOTH parties ample chance to work together to achieve the goals he ran on, before striking out on his own via executive orders.

Although the first few weeks were predictably rocky, the President has since tried to get Democrats to participate, often reminding both sides that THEY are the legislative body.

In his own unique way, he has also chastised recalcitrant Republicans who seem to have forgotten that his agenda, as affirmed by his election, is supposed to be largely the agenda of the people.

That’s not to say that he is or should be immune from criticism. Even some of his staunch supporters find some of his ancillary antics unnecessarily distracting.

What rankles many right-leaning voters is that in the main, the steps he is taking are the reason he was elected. They are on board with the substance of his policy actions, making the actions of the Senate GOP “Nevers” on matters of national importance at least troubling.

Senate efficiency is a problem for voters.

Even defining the “Nevers” is based more on how passionately the voters feel about the issue than the percentage of their senator’s actual support when they vote.

According to one source, even the far right’s favorite whipping boy, John McCain, has supported the President’s position over 83% of the time. Mitch McConnell has voted with the President nearly 96% of the time.

In contrast, only two or three Senate Democrats even approach 50% support, and that is largely on appointments, not policy.

What truly gripes voters is that in nine months, the Senate has reportedly  managed to vote on just 26 non-personnel or non-Cabinet related issues out of what Speaker Ryan says are some 270 House bills sent to the Senate.  If true, that means that most of that number are not even getting voted out of committee. That’s perhaps the voter’s biggest knock against McConnell.

Even more than that, there is a feeling that members are largely voting for themselves, and not for the country.  That was particularly on view when Senator McCain voted against a measure to repeal and replace Obamacare, apparently not on its relative merits, but because it didn’t conform to his vision of proper procedure.

That leads us to Bannon’s best argument.

Voter-imposed term limits.

No one thinks that Congress is ever going to vote for term limits, and the only other lawful way to change the Constitution is through the tedious Article V state-by-state constitutional convention process, which has failed in the past.

Bannon’s argument is that voters need to impose term limits by simply voting for different people. The voters respond by noting there is often no alternative presented.

It is no secret that the national parties and PACs support candidates they approve of and make it difficult for  challengers to mount an effective campaign, and that practice normally benefits the incumbents. That’s where Bannon comes in.

He envisions his role as providing choice to voters by introducing or backing challengers to long-entrenched incumbents.

As far as that part of Bannon’s argument goes, it has a great many supporters.

Where it falls apart is when he proposes only a very specific type of candidate who can win his support, opening both himself and his supporters to the predictable charges of racism and white nationalism from the left while they ignore the equally repulsive black and brown racist nationalists on their own team. It’s circular logic.

By appealing only to people susceptible to continuing the identity politics of the past 10 years, Bannon may have positioned himself as the right’s counterpart to Al Sharpton.

The danger in Bannon’s call for “war.”

Ordinary people are heartily tired of identity politics. Most of them are focused on real problems, like why we throw billions upon billions of dollars at improving inner city schools, while never demanding they deliver improved outcomes for their students.

They aren’t looking for war, they are looking for real alternatives and actions that can get the country back on track.

For a few brief hours last November those ordinary people had a voice and they used it.  That doesn’t mean they bought into the philosophy of the Bannons of the country.

If they disengage, reject the whole polarizing political landscape and just stay home, all that leaves at the polls are the crazies on the fringes.

That leaves us with the same outcome as when two rabid dogs fight. One may win the battle, but all it gained was a few more painful days of life.

Oddly, this outsider President, with all of his own flaws, but still showing a real interest in putting the entire country’s interests ahead of partisan politics, is now looking more like America’s best hope than he did on November 8, 2016.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but at least he’s the guy we elected, and that has to count for something.


From → op-ed

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