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Why it is so hard for Stephen Bannon to dump Roy Moore

Breitbart News Chairman Stephen K. Bannon spoke at a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore on Sept. 25 in Fairhope, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
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Withdrawing support for Senate candidate Roy Moore would seem to be one of the easiest moves in politics right now. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), John Cornyn (Tex.), Mike Lee (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) all did it. The National Republican Senatorial Committee did it.

Even Sean Hannity said on Tuesday night that he would do it, unless the Alabama Republican could, within 24 hours, “come up with a satisfactory explanation” to refute allegations that decades ago he sexually assaulted a teenage girl, initiated sexual touching with another and pursued relationships with three more.

Yet Breitbart News Chairman Stephen K. Bannon has yet to dump Moore. The Daily Beast reported on Tuesday that Bannon is privately wavering, but Breitbart's coverage on Wednesday remained staunchly pro-Moore.

Stubbornness alone can't explain Bannon's position. The former White House chief strategist staked his reputation as an anti-establishment kingmaker on Moore's candidacy. Abandoning Moore would be a reputation-shrinking concession.

“Bannon stapled himself to Moore's leg so that he could claim credit for Moore's primary victory, even though Moore's victory had little to do with Bannon,” said Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor who heads the conservative news site Daily Wire. “Now Bannon is stuck. He's taken credit for Moore, so now he owns him.”

A Bannon spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Republican senators continue to urge Senate candidate Roy Moore to end his campaign in Alabama amid allegations of sexual misconduct. (Video: Jordan Frasier, Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Shapiro added that Bannon's effort to discredit Moore's accusers is “a quixotic attempt to demonstrate that he is more powerful than Mitch McConnell and take leadership of the nonexistent ‘Trumpism Without Trump’ movement.”

Shapiro's final point is critical to understanding Bannon's intractability. Yes, Bannon wants to stick it to McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and the GOP establishment. That's a given. But Moore represents an opportunity for Bannon to flex his muscle within the anti-establishment faction of conservatism.

President Trump initially backed Sen. Luther Strange over Moore in the Senate race. Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks.

“This was the race and the candidate where Steve differentiated himself from everybody,” said Kurt Bardella, president of Endeavor Strategies and a former Breitbart spokesman.

Were Moore to win a Senate seat, Bannon could claim to be more influential than other anti-establishment figures — even Trump. Those are serious bragging rights.

Plus, Bannon probably doesn't stand to benefit by renouncing Moore at this point. Citing a person close to Bannon, the Daily Beast reported that Bannon has said if he were to become convinced that Moore is guilty of sexual misconduct, he would “put [Moore] in a grave myself.”

But what if Bannon were to abandon Moore, and the former Alabama chief justice were to win anyway? In that scenario, Bannon's perceived sway would still take a hit. The result would suggest that Bannon lacked the power to stop Moore and cast doubt on the extent to which his endorsement mattered in the first place.

“That is the Catch-22 for Steve,” Bardella said. “He probably believes — and this isn't off-base — that Roy is going to win. There's really nothing for Steve to gain by walking away from Moore. I think that's what he's wrestling with.”

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