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Yet the retaliatory crusade does not aim to target Trump, whose popularity remains high among Republican voters. Instead, the McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) will highlight Bannon’s hard-line populism and attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support. It will also boost candidates with traditional GOP profiles and excoriate those tied to Bannon, with plans to spend millions and launch a heavy social media presence in some states.
The turbulence presents a danger to Republicans’ narrow 52-seat majority in the Senate, with seasoned GOP lawmakers deciding against seeking reelection amid the political storm — and with many GOP voters cheering the rancor that Bannon has stoked from his perch at his website, Breitbart.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), in an emotional plea Tuesday, said that he would not run in 2018, after Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had done the same in late September. Both men, no longer accountable to Republican primary voters, have taken on higher-profile roles as critics of the president, with Corker calling for a “day care” to step in and control him and Flake calling Trump’s behavior “unacceptable.”
Some Republican lawmakers have privately fretted that simply speaking out against Trump’s incendiary statements or the Bannon-aligned candidates that are rousing anger in their states will not be enough — and could backfire — as they try to survive the surge of grievance-driven politics that has gripped the GOP’s base.