Bannon’s war exposes GOP donor divisions

Steve Peoples
Associated Press
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New York — Steve Bannon’s war on the GOP establishment has caught the party’s most powerful donors in the crossfire.

Deep-pocketed supporters of Trump’s agenda are divided over how best to spend their dollars to advance the Trump agenda. Once a whispered concern, the division was out front this week as donors who support President Donald Trump huddled deep in the Texas desert to discuss their strategy.

It’s not that they all oppose the president’s former adviser’s more-radical version of conservatism, though some of them do. Like him, they’re frustrated and angry that the current Republican majorities in Congress have so far failed to rid the nation of “Obamacare,” overhaul the U.S. tax system, build a border wall and more.

But they fear he’ll depose incumbent Republicans in favor of weaker challengers who will then lose to Democrats.

Doug Deason, one of the big donors who attended the private gathering of America First Action, the only Trump-sanctioned super PAC, said that Bannon is wasting time, energy and resources by launching his aggressive campaign to take down Republican lawmakers that he feels stand in Trump’s way.

“I really like Steve. I think he’s a smart guy. He has good intent,” Deason said. “If Steve called and asked for support, I’d say, ‘No, but let’s keep in touch.’ ”

Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. Already, America First and its allied nonprofit have raised roughly $25 million with another $15 million in “soft commitments” from donors, according to one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

Two dozen donors affiliated with America First spent Tuesday at the Mesa Vista, Texas, ranch of billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens. Many arrived via private jets on the landing strip on the property. The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., addressed the group, which is also affiliated with Trump loyalists Corey Lewandowski, Katrina Pierson and former Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke.

Bannon, who left his job as the president’s chief strategist in August, was not invited. He maintains relationships with some America First officials, but he has been focused instead on assembling his own coalition of donors in recent weeks to promote what he recently called “a season of war on the GOP establishment.”

“I think that we are all allies at the end of the day, we all want to see pro-Trump, pro-America-first candidates get elected,” America First spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said. “That doesn’t mean we are going to agree on everything.”

She added, “We really want to be the super PAC that supports the president the best way we can.”

Bannon’s team, however, sees itself less bound to Trump and within its rights to apply political pressure to any and all Republicans.

In fact, Bannon has said he plans to seek Republican challengers for virtually every Republican senator seeking re-election next year, chiefly for the purpose of electing candidates who would remove Mitch McConnell of Kentucky from the post of Senate majority leader.

Bannon has even put Trump agenda supporters, such as Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and John Barrasso of Wyoming, on notice that they aren’t free from close scrutiny.

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