Rep. Peter King said Wednesday the Republican Party should dump Steve Bannon in the wake of a loss in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, underscoring a continuing divide between party traditionalists and populists.
Finger-pointing began almost immediately after Democrat Doug Jones was declared the winner over Republican Roy Moore in one of the most conservative states in the union. It was an upset fueled by scandal more than any other factor — Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with multiple women, including one who was 14 when Moore was in his 30s.
Many Republicans put the blame squarely on Moore as a uniquely damaged candidate. Not only was he facing the assault allegations, but also backlash after saying America was last “great” when slavery was legal.
But others held Bannon responsible for blowing what should have been a sure GOP win. The former top political strategist to President Donald Trump championed Moore in a Republican primary for the seat and in the general campaign. Bannon called it part of his “war on the Republican establishment.” Trump also backed Moore after having supported Luther Strange in the primary.
King urged his party to cut ties with Bannon.
“After Alabama disaster, GOP must do right thing and DUMP Steve Bannon,” King (R-Seaford) said in a tweet. “His act is tired, inane and morally vacuous. If we are to Make America Great Again for all Americans, Bannon must go! And NOW!!”
Later, in a CNN interview, King said Bannon “looks like some disheveled drunk” who doesn’t belong on the national stage and added: “He parades himself out there with his weird, alt-right view he has and, to me, it’s demeaning to the whole governmental and political process.”
Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who ran for president in 2016 as an independent, also said on Twitter the outcome sends a “clear message” to GOP leadership: “Continue to appease the populist, nationalist movement of Bannon and Trump at your peril.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an ally of Trump and Bannon, didn’t immediately comment. Bannon was scheduled to headline a Zeldin fundraiser Thursday in Manhattan.
Bannon reportedly said in a radio interview the Jones forces outworked the Moore campaign in getting out the vote. Trump sought to distance himself from the loss and Moore, saying on Twitter the outcome “proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates.”
“When people say ‘Dump Bannon,’ they need to call on Trump to” do so, said Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist. “I think, frankly, the president likes to see Steve Bannon out there as one of his foils to lay some of the groundwork for him.”
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, said the split between establishment and populist Republicans is an “extension of 2016” when the bulk of traditional party members supported someone else, but Trump won the nomination anyway.
“The No. 1 reason Roy Moore lost is Roy Moore,” Sabato said. “I don’t know how much Bannon is to blame.”
But to the extent that Bannon can fundraise and use his role as head of Breitbart News to promote anti-establishment candidates, Sabato said, “he is a problem for the Republicans.”
CORRECTION: Evan McMullin’s title was incorrect in a previous version of this story.