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Opinion An angry rift between Trump and Bannon signals the far-right’s future

Stephen K. Bannon is on the opposite side of Donald Trump in Georgia's gubernatorial race. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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There may be no greater transgression in MAGA-land than refusing to engage in maximal corruption on Donald Trump’s behalf, which is why Trump has now endorsed former senator David Perdue, who is challenging Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Trump has not bothered to conceal his reason for doing this: In backing Perdue, Trump derided Kemp as a sellout on “Election Integrity” who can’t win the “MAGA base.” In essence, Trump is urging his voters to reject Kemp for refusing to steal the election on Trump’s behalf.

Yet Trump is facing dissent on this from, of all people, his former adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who is raging that even Trump’s choice is too much of a squish to wage the long war from the right that Bannon is trying to summon into being.

Which signals the direction that the far right in this country, in the hands of the likes of Bannon, is likely to take: toward full-blown insurgency.

Speaking on his “War Room” podcast, Bannon ripped into Perdue as a “disaster.” Bannon seethed that Perdue is “the last person in the world” who should challenge Kemp, insisting that Perdue was “dead silent” about Trump’s 2020 loss, and “did not support” Trump’s effort to overturn it.

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“There’s no difference between Kemp and Perdue,” Bannon fumed, in a striking rebuke of Trump’s anointed candidate.

This is a remarkable claim. Unlike Kemp, who rebuffed Trump’s corrupt appeals, Perdue did lend his support to Trump’s designs. In the run-up to his loss in the January runoff, Perdue supported that notorious Texas lawsuit that tried to get courts to invalidate millions of votes for Joe Biden in four states based on lies.

At the time, Perdue also took the extraordinary step of calling for the resignation of the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, who rejected Trump’s demand that he “find” the votes to subvert the legitimate outcome.

None of this is good enough for Bannon.

But why? Perdue is challenging Kemp, and has Trump’s endorsement, precisely because Kemp refused to overturn the election for Trump. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes says, the rationale for Perdue’s candidacy is to replace Kemp “with a Republican who will participate in Donald Trump’s next coup.”

But, you see, Perdue is not being explicit enough about this. Perdue apparently is hoping to replicate the success of Virginia’s Republican governor-elect, Glenn Youngkin: Perdue wants to harness the energy of the Trump base by feeding the former president’s lies about 2020, but only in a subtle way, as Youngkin did, to avoid alienating the suburbs.

And so Perdue vaguely claims that Kemp has “lost the confidence of many Republicans” and has “failed” them, without saying expressly whether Kemp should have subverted the election for Trump. (One wonders how he’ll answer if reporters press him to say whether Kemp should indeed have done Trump’s bidding.)

But none of this will satisfy Bannon. The former Trump adviser’s podcast has become a kind of command center for a much more explicitly anti-democratic far-right politics, a kind of openly and unabashedly declared far-right insurgency.

Bannon’s podcast features an endless barrage of ludicrous and lurid lies about Trump’s loss, as Daniel Dale details, and Bannon himself expressly declares that his goal is to reduce public faith in the “legitimacy” of President Biden’s “regime.”

Bannon reportedly helped plot Trump’s effort to overturn the election, and now that this failed, he hails the Jan. 6 rioters as “political prisoners.” He is transforming himself into a hero over his indictment for refusing a lawful subpoena from the select committee investigating the effort to overthrow U.S. democracy through corrupt legal manipulation and mob violence.

All of which says a good deal about the future direction of this sort of right-wing politics.

Nicole Hemmer, a scholar who specializes in conservative media, notes that in attacking Trump’s chosen candidate, Bannon is occupying a space different from other right-wing media figures, such as those on Fox News whose propaganda remains faithful to Trump.

Bannon has long seen Trump as more of a “vessel” for his “insurgency,” said Hemmer, the author of “Messengers of the Right.”

“Bannon sees Trump as one of many tools to achieve this broader vision that he has of nationalist politics, both in the United States and abroad,” Hemmer continued, describing his vision as “anti-democratic,” “anti-liberal,” and “authoritarian.”

Interestingly, Bannon’s self-martyrdom around Jan. 6 has echoes in figures such as Oliver North, who parlayed his own legal sentencing related to the Iran-contra scandal into a media presence organized around an explicitly insurgent message.

“North was celebrated for his lawlessness,” Hemmer told me. “Bannon is tapping into that same idea,” by signaling a “willingness to break the law” to realize his radical right vision.

Given all this, it’s a no-brainer that Bannon sees Perdue as too much of a squish to wage the war to overturn U.S. democracy that Bannon envisions. But Bannon appears to have a lot of followers, and all this signals where this movement is really headed.

“Bannon has a bigger-picture view,” Hemmer concluded, which is that the Jan. 6 insurrection “just brings us one step closer to his end goal of having this authoritarian nationalism put in place independent of the electoral process.”