Bannon's fall might screw Arizona's Kelli Ward, but don't overestimate his influence in other races

Bannon's fall might screw Arizona's Kelli Ward, but don't overestimate his influence in other races

Steve Bannon instantly became persona non grata in Trumpworld on Wednesday after an excerpt from journalist Michael Wolff's new book captured Bannon dissing Trump and his family. However, while it remains to be seen how the Breitbart chief's rift with Trump will affect the candidates he's supporting, there's at least one person who has everything to lose and not much to gain from his fall.

Bannon and billionaire Robert Mercer were prominent supporters of former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward while she was running in the GOP primary against Sen. Jeff Flake, and they remained in her camp after Flake decided to retire in the fall. However, the Washington Post writes that, even before Wednesday, Bannon's alliance with the billionaire Mercer family was in real trouble. Robert Mercer's daughter, Rebekah Mercer, who had been Bannon's main financial backer, has reportedly been angry with Bannon for a while, especially over some of his moves to support Roy Moore's losing Senate bid in Alabama last month. But the final straw apparently came when Bannon allegedly bragged to other prominent conservative donors that the Mercers would help him if he ran for president.

According to the Post, the Mercers have now decided to stop supporting any of Bannon's projects, which could be very bad news for Ward. The former state senator is a notoriously bad fundraiser, but the Mercers have been funding a super PAC to support her. If that money stops flowing in, she could be left without any outside help.

But while Ward’s fortunes might genuinely suffer over this rift, too many national pundits have overestimated how much influence Bannon has in other GOP primaries. After Moore won the Alabama runoff in September against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, plenty of national observers were quick to credit Bannon for the outcome. Bannon certainly enjoyed portraying himself as a kingmaker, and after Moore's campaign general election campaign self-destructed, Bannon's enemies in the party were also glad to point to Moore as an example of what kind of candidates the GOP would get saddled with when Bannon gets his way.

However, as plenty of frustrated Alabama journalists have explained, Moore's win over Strange had everything to do with Moore himself and the political climate in Alabama. Bannon, in fact, was a johnny-come-lately who only endorsed Moore when he was already about to win. And in other Senate primaries elsewhere, Bannon's involvement has been minimal to date. A few campaigns are engaged in slapfights with one another over his support (or lack thereof), but these skirmishes—mostly in Nevada, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—are only being fought with press releases and are unlikely to have any electoral impact.

If anything, Ward is the outlier: Thanks to her particular weakness as a campaigner, she was unusually dependent on the Bannon-Mercer axis for its largesse. But stronger candidates in the Bannon orbit may survive just fine because Bannon's power was never a be-all, end-all for them.