After rough night, top Trump backers differ on path forward
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Marking a year since President Donald Trump’s election, his fiercest advocates offered different approaches Wednesday for the Republican Party’s way forward after some tough losses Tuesday.
Appearing in key states Trump carried a year ago, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel called on Republicans to come together, while former White House strategist Steve Bannon maintained an aggressive tone toward any in the GOP who would stand in the president’s way.
Their remarks in Iowa and Michigan underscored the tension bubbling over in Washington.
“Let me tell you, there is a stark difference between the worst Republican and the best Democrat,” Spicer said during the Republican Party of Iowa’s annual Reagan Dinner in Des Moines.
Spicer lamented Republicans in Virginia who decided not to vote Tuesday for GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie because he didn’t pass their “litmus tests.”
Bannon, meanwhile, took aim at veteran Republican lawmakers and entrenched party insiders, whom he has pledged to root out of the Senate next year. He grouped Gillespie — a lobbyist, former RNC chairman and adviser to former President George W. Bush — with the GOP forces of old.
Trump needs more outsiders at his side, Bannon said.
“He’s had some victories. He’s had some defeats,” Bannon said of Trump. “Most of the defeats are because the Republican establishment cannot execute on the plan.”
Bannon spoke at a Republican dinner in Macomb County, Michigan, a working-class Detroit suburb which former President Barack Obama carried twice but where Trump handily beat Democrat Hillary Clinton last year.
Despite Trump’s low approval ratings — 33 percent in a Gallup poll this week, the lowest of his presidency — McDaniel, who also spoke at the Iowa banquet, painted an optimistic picture of the economy, touted record party fundraising and said, “I feel very confident in the candidates I see running across the country.”
“I hope we expand our majority in the Senate so we can get more things done,” she said.
However, Bannon has pledged to find primary opponents for virtually every Republican senator standing for re-election next year, arguing they have not adequately defended Trump against attacks from within his own party, chiefly by Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
With Corker and Flake having announced plans to not seek re-election, Bannon is gunning for GOP Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada and has even mentioned challenging reliable conservatives such as John Barrasso of Wyoming and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
One of Bannon’s chief goals is ousting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whom he blames for not following through on long-promised legislation to undo Obama’s 2010 health care law.
“They only understand one thing. You cannot be nice to these guys,” Bannon said, referring to McConnell. “You have to drop the hammer. That’s what he understands.”
Eggert reported from Warren, Michigan.