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Analysis: McConnell Wins In Trump-Bannon Feud

As the president’s allegiances swing, the majority leader grins

The marginalization of former White House adviser Steve Bannon is a plus for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seen here with President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The marginalization of former White House adviser Steve Bannon is a plus for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seen here with President Donald Trump. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet another reason to celebrate in 2018.

Republicans pushed through a long-sought overhaul of the tax code, and McConnell shepherded a record number of appellate court judges to the bench.

And now President Donald Trump has turned the tables on former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Since he left the White House last summer, Bannon has essentially operated as an opposition party to McConnell. He has called for the Kentucky Republican’s ouster as majority leader and launched an effort to recruit candidates to run against Republican senators — a direct challenge to McConnell’s own political action committee.

While Trump himself has had harsh words for McConnell in the past, their relationship now seems to be on solid footing. McConnell last month said the two “go into the New Year with a high level of confidence in our ability to work together.”

Their budding rapport comes as Bannon heads to Trump’s doghouse. 

After Bannon provided damning quotes for a forthcoming book on the administration — describing a 2016 meeting inside Trump Tower among Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer they believed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton as “treasonous” — Trump released a brutal statement in which he said his former campaign executive has “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” the statement reads. “Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.”

At Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump last spoke to Bannon in early December, and his claim that the Trump Tower meeting was treasonous is “ridiculous.”

Huckabee Sanders also slammed the coming book by Michael Wolff that reportedly contains the Bannon comment.

“Participating in a book that can only be described as trashy tabloid fiction exposes their sad, desperate attempts at relevancy,” she said.

The rebuke appears to be welcome news for McConnell, who has been forced to constantly push back against Bannon’s attempts to stir controversy and instigate infighting within the GOP.

The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund sent out the president’s comments with the headline “In case you missed it ;-).” And McConnell’s political arm simply released a video on Twitter of him smiling.

Bannon’s attacks against McConnell run deep.

He has crisscrossed the nation in a reported attempt to recruit more fringe candidates to primary a number of Republican incumbents in 2018. He has also been a consistent thorn in the side of GOP congressional leadership from his perch atop Breitbart News, a conservative news website that routinely publishes articles critical of McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

McConnell has belittled any possible impact Bannon might have on the upcoming 2018 elections, labeling him a “specialist in nominating people who lose” and jokingly called Bannon a “political genius” for “throwing away a seat in the reddest state in America.”

The comments came after Roy Moore, Bannon’s pick in the Alabama special election to fill current Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former Senate seat, was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones.

Trump’s decision to condemn his former strategist could be an indication of just how close the president has become with the majority leader.

In further evidence of an about-face, Trump’s blistering rebuke of Bannon comes after he showered McConnell with praise.

“I would like to congratulate @SenateMajLdr on having done a fantastic job both strategically & politically on the passing in the Senate of the MASSIVE TAX CUT & Reform Bill,” the president tweeted in December.

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