Steve Bannon is attempting a political resurrection, launching a 25-person pro-Trump rapid-response and polling operation that is framing the midterms as an up-or-down vote on the president’s impeachment.
The former White House chief strategist has started Citizens for the American Republic, an outside political group that intends to advise surrogates, generate talking points, and flood the TV and radio airwaves ahead of a perilous midterm election.
As part of the campaign, Bannon — a former Hollywood producer who’s made several conservative films — will soon release a new documentary, “Trump@War,” which he plans to release in September on the two-year anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s now-infamous speech in which she referred to Trump supporters as “deplorables.” The slickly produced movie depicts the president in deeply flattering terms, casting him as a populist hero who’s followed through on his campaign promises and defied a long line of liberal critics.
It notably does not focus on the culture wars that Trump advisers have said will be the key to his re-election strategy, but tells a positive story about the president’s 2016 campaign and time in office, while portraying liberal Trump haters as the ones who have targeted his supporters with physical violence in the streets.
During a 30-minute interview at his Capitol Hill townhouse on Wednesday, Bannon described the looming midterm election as a referendum on Trump — and one that could have disastrous consequences for his presidency. He said his new group was designed to combat a mobilized Democratic machine bent on punishing Trump.
“It’s very simple to me. This is a referendum on Trump, up-or-down vote on impeachment,” he said. “This other side, they’re very motivated — and they’re motivated for one thing: They want to impeach Donald Trump.”
“It’s all on the table November 6,” said Bannon, who flatly asserted that Democrats would impeach Trump if they seized control of the House. “This is the re-elect. How do you use this to trigger the civil war in the Democratic party? You must win. [The midterms] have more value than the typical, ‘We’re holding the House.‘”
Many Republicans, however, have been making the argument that it is normal for the president‘s party to lose House seats in the midterms of his first term. And the White House and the Republican National Committee still have no working relationships with Bannon, who is running his own outsider show.
But the new group represents an attempt as political comeback for Bannon. Earlier this year, he went through a public breakup with Trump after making critical comments about the president and his family in “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s insider account of the White House.
In the months that followed, the usually high-profile Bannon briefly went underground. The 64-year-old former White House aide shelved his plans to oust establishment GOP incumbents in the 2018 elections, parted ways with the conservative Breitbart website he oversaw, and split with his longtime sponsor, conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer.
Many in the Republican Party — and the White House — came to see Bannon as a pariah, and they still want nothing to do with Bannon.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about his new PAC, and Bannon said he was not coordinating with anyone still in the building, or anyone at the Republican National Committee. He is also operating independently of the pro-Trump super PAC.
He denied having any interest in rejoining the White House or working on Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
“Never again,” he said. “I cannot work in someone else’s structure, I just can’t do it.”
Bannon declined to name his group’s funders, but said he was “well capitalized” and financed by a handful of major benefactors. He said he hadn’t received any backing from Mercer.
“I’ve never had a problem finding money,” he said.
Bannon has hired around 10 veterans of Trump’s 2016 campaign, including Sam Nunberg, and Michael Caputo. Veteran pollsters John McLaughlin and Pat Caddell have also signed on, he said.
Each day, the group convenes for conference calls to discuss messaging – talking points that are then distributed to cable news guests. Among the pro-Trump surrogates the group has advised, Bannon said, is Steve Cortes, who appears frequently on CNN, and Sheriff David Clarke.
It also books guests on talk radio, which he said was intended to target Trump supporters who reside in rural areas.
“We try to help frame,” Bannon said, “and put it into perspective of what Trump’s actually accomplishing.”
Much of Bannon’s focus has been on the new film. He hopes to premier it at Harry Cipriani, the upscale New York City restaurant where Clinton made the “deplorables“ remark, and then to distribute it to conservative media outlets and websites with an eye toward mobilizing Trump supporters ahead of the November election.
The movie, which features interviews with presidential allies like Corey Lewandowski, follows Trump from his June 2015 announcement through the first 18 months of his administration. In classic Bannon fashion, the movie — set to pulsating background music and sound effects — warns of the dangers posed by lax immigration policies, targets the media and depicts an intolerant left.
One prominent opening sequence spotlights violent liberal protesters who’ve attacked and bloodied Trump supporters.
While Bannon acknowledged the dangers confronting Trump in November, he argued that there was a major potential upside for the president if Democrats fell short.
“If we get to October and that blue wave is not evident, those people who walked those districts in July, they’re going to say ‘How can this possibly be?’” he said.
“There is a tremendous advantage to winning this. The civil war in the Democratic Party will start on November 6 if they don’t win.”