Alabama Republican U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore was supposed to win the special election this week — the Deep South state, after all, is scarlet red. And far-right strategist Steve Bannon was supposed to get all the credit.
Instead, the Heart of Dixie will have its first Democratic senator in 25 years, Doug Jones, a former prosecutor who put KKK members away for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black little girls. He fittingly won thanks to a swell of African-American support at the polls.
Moore, who Atlantic columnist Michelle Cottle charitably describes as “a bit of a loon,” was twice booted from the state Supreme Court for ethics violations and has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. Moore referred to Native Americans and Asian-Americans as “reds and yellows” at a September campaign rally, where he also waxed nostalgic for America under slavery because it was “great at the time when families were united.” He’s also partial to conspiracy theories that Sharia law is spreading in America and former President Obama wasn’t actually born here.
President Trump didn’t endorse his fellow birther in the primary, instead stumping for the establishment GOP pick, U.S. Sen. Luther Strange. That irked Bannon, a former Trump campaign strategist who had recently been fired from his White House senior adviser gig. When Moore handily won the primary, Bannon claimed victory and Trump quickly endorsed the winner.
Bannon has returned to running Breitbart News, whose ties to Nazism have been exposed, and has been busy stoking his reputation as an “evil genius.” He headlined a Nov. 8 Macomb County GOP “Unity” dinner, crammed with 2018 Republican hopefuls eager to see and be seen.
The day after the event, a Washington Post story broke that Moore had allegedly sexually abused teenagers, including one who was 14. A former prosecutor who worked with him at the time said it was “common knowledge” that Moore dated teenagers and the New Yorker reported he had even been banned from a mall for skeeving on girls.
If you were trying to create a horrendous Republican candidate in a lab for an elaborate social experiment on what it would take for Alabamians to finally vote for a Democrat for major office, you really couldn’t do better than Roy Moore.
But the conventional wisdom was that it’s Alabama, man. And in these polarized times, Republicans would come home.
Bannon was already being set up in coverage as the nihilistic mastermind, having convinced Trump to re-engage in the Senate race. The president held a rally in nearby Pensacola, Fla., but it was Bannon taking premature victory laps on stage at Moore’s official events. No one can ever accuse Bannon of lacking an ego. He’s griped that Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie lost his race (by 9 points, mind you) because he refused Bannon’s offer to hold a rally.
Bannon also gleefully cranked up the right-wing outrage machine against Moore’s accusers. Bloomberg News’ Josh Green, who Bannon frequently confided in about strategy during the ‘16 campaign, noted that his Moore rehabilitation playbook took page from Nazi and Soviet propagandists:
“Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans’ perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he’s long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film ‘The Hope and the Change,’ had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl’s infamous, ‘Triumph of the Will.’ Her film, he added, ‘seared into me’ that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned.”
Let’s not gloss over this. In 2017 America, the president’s chief strategist freely admits that he appropriates tactics he admires from the most barbaric regimes of the 20th century, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
This is real. And three Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidates — Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) — made sure they were at Bannon’s Macomb soiree. Colbeck even made a public stink that he was bumped from a speaking slot in favor of Schuette. Others attending included U.S. Senate hopefuls John James and Bob Young; Secretary of State candidate Stan Grot; and House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), who’s running for attorney general.
Not surprisingly, Democrats have widely shared photos of top Republicans at the event on social media, which is probably just a preview of 2018 ads to come.
Playing up Bannon ties may still be smart politics next year for those in tough GOP primaries and especially for SOS and AG candidates, who are nominated at party conventions.
But the moral cost of embracing someone who tried to use Nazi agitprop techniques to try to get an accused child molester elected to the U.S. Senate simply cannot be understated or overlooked.
Some days, it’s hard to believe these are the times we live in.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.