Chad Selweski covered state and regional politics for The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. He contributes to Deadline Detroit and blogs at Politically Speaking.
By Chad Selweski
When former White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon appeared as the keynote speaker at a Macomb County Republican Party gathering two months ago, he was treated to a celebratory event.
An overflow crowd of President Trump loyalists was on hand for this GOP “unity dinner” at Andiamo's Celebrity Showroom in Warren to applaud Bannon’s role in getting Trump elected. The former Trump adviser saluted the audience as fellow followers of his anti-establishment brand of Republican politics.
Now, those same Republicans, including Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, must be shell-shocked as Trump and Bannon are locked in a nasty feud.
Bannon referred to the infamous meeting between Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and a group of Russians last June as “treasonous” and said he believes the president also met with Russian envoys that day. Bannon called Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was also a part of that meeting, “greasy” and suggested he and Don Jr. will clumsily lead the way to numerous indictments of administration officials by the Justice Department.
Those quotes come from a new book about the 2016 campaign and the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury,” by journalist Mike Wolff, and the president responded with fury on Twitter against his influential amigo.
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind … Steve had very little to do with our historic victory,” Trump tweeted.
So, now the hundreds of Trump/Bannon faithful who attended that dinner in Warren two months ago – and the multiple hundreds of thousands of Michigan Republicans who were there, in spirit – must make a choice.
Was it Treason?
Are they "drain-the-swamp" renegades who side with Bannon’s view that the Trump family engaged in treason by cozying up to the Russians in the 2016 campaign? Or are they Trump loyalists who embrace the president’s sudden view that Bannon is “out of his mind?”
The Macomb fundraising dinner marked the 1-year anniversary of the November 2016 election, recognizing the significance of Macomb County’s pro-Trump vote which, in turn, led to the all-important Trump success in Michigan. It was a reminder that Trump’s 2016 White House win was praised by Republicans beyond anything seen since Ronald Reagan’s overwhelming re-election victory over Walter Mondale 34 years ago.
In turn, Bannon was certainly considered a key force in the president’s unexpected 2016 triumph and was widely viewed as a top Trump confidante even after he left the White House in August. He continued to have Trump’s ear into late 2017. Best buds.
Though Bannon carries the banner of a controversial rogue associated with far-right, nationalist-populist politics, an all-star cast of GOP leadership was on hand to offer accolades at his November speech. Beyond Schuette and Calley, the two leading Republican candidates for governor, those who paid homage included former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young; Senate candidate John James; state House Speaker Tom Leonard, a candidate for attorney general; Congressman Paul Mitchell; and state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, another GOP gubernatorial candidate.
Of course, most of these folks will side with the president in this sudden intra-party brawl despite Trump’s increasingly bizarre tweets on a variety of subjects. Where do the Michigan GOP leaders stand on Trump’s “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” rhetoric aimed at Korth Korea’s Kim Jong Un?
Just as they throw Bannon under the bus Republicans will also justify Trump’s unexpected praise for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in recent weeks,despite the Kentucky Republican’s snide remarks about Bannon backing Alabama Senate election loser Roy Moore. The GOP will conveniently forget that Trump eventually campaigned for Moore and had routinely denounced McConnell.
Trump followers have a hard time keeping up with presidential zig-zags.
In the coming days, watch for GOP attacks that paint Bannon as unhinged, even a traitor – not to the U.S., but to Trump individually.
When former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was indicted by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the GOP spin at that time purported that Manafort had a relatively minimal role in guiding the campaign effort. With Bannon’s fresh criticism of the “unpatriotic” Trump team, the Republicans will now latch onto the president’s claim that Bannon, too, was little more than a bit player.
Yet, at that Macomb dinner, one of the applause lines came from Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, a GOP candidate for secretary of state: “Mr. Bannon … we owe you a huge debt of gratitude. America is for true patriots.”
Of course, in this era of Trump politics, gratitude and condemnation, friends and enemies are just words that become interchangeable day by day.
As of today, I don’t suspect the Macomb Republicans will invite Bannon back.