President Donald Trump won the election in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, the ultimate Washington insider and now twice-failed Oval Office hopeful, at least partly by being an outsider and challenging the establishment in Washington, D.C.
Last month, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has spent a career challenging the establishment, easily defeated in the special-election Republican primary Sen. Luther Strange, the hand-picked establishment replacement for Sen. Jeff Sessions, now attorney general.
The win for Moore has bolstered the belief that longtime Republican lawmakers are vulnerable to challenges from the right.
And that’s exactly what’s happening.
Republican strategist Boyd Matheson is considering a run against Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in the 2018 primary and reportedly met with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Citizens United President David Bossie to discuss the plan. Hatch, with 40 years in the Senate, is the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history.
Politico contends Matheson, who is at the Sutherland Institute think tank, would be a “formidable contender” in such a matchup.
A former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee, who now runs that institute, Matheson said he will run whether Hatch seeks re-election or not.
He suggests Americans’ frustration with the Republican Party’s empty legislative promises on critical issues will propel his candidacy.
“The one thing that’s uniting people across the spectrum is frustration with the lack of progress in Congress,” he said. “They’re kind of functioning in this status quo universe.
“We’re backwards facing and backwards looking,” he said. “To me, it’s about what’s next.”
Matheson characterized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as incompetent.
“There just hasn’t been a vision,” he said. “This is the time when things should really be moving, and I just don’t see that working currently.”
In 2010, Lee ousted a longtime, establishment-aligned incumbent in Utah, the late Republican Sen. Bob Bennett who spent nearly 20 years in office.
A spokesman for Lee told Politico that Lee is unlikely to publicly support Matheson if he runs, because the senator “does not endorse in Utah primaries.”
And Hatch will not make a final decision on whether to run until the beginning of next year.
Matheson could face another establishment-backed candidate in his bid for Hatch’s seat: Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor and onetime Republican presidential nominee vowed in September to run for the Senate if Hatch retires.
“Mitt has lots of great credentials,” Matheson said of Romney, “but what’s the vision?”
Hatch told National Journal in March he may not seek re-election if an “outstanding person” such as Romney were to run for his Senate seat.
“If I could get a really outstanding person to run for my position, I might very well consider [retiring],” Hatch told National Journal. “Mitt Romney would be perfect.”
Bannon warned Monday night that he intends to challenge every sitting GOP lawmaker except Sen. Ted Cruz and recruit candidates who are not faithfully fighting to implement Trump’s agenda.
“There’s a basic agenda that Trump ran on and won,” he former White House chief strategist told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “He carried states Republicans haven’t carried in living memory — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. This agenda works. The American people voted for it.”
Bannon said McConnell should be thanking Trump that he’s still majority leader, as it was Trump’s victory that carried senators across the finish line in several states, giving the GOP the Senate majority for this term.
Bannon’s next goal, reportedly, is to defund anti-Trump, McConnell-aligned Republican incumbents.
He’s been meeting with top Republican donors in Connecticut, New York and Washington every day since Moore won the Alabama Republican primary, CNN reports, in an effort to recruit financial support to run outsider candidates nationwide.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh argued last week that Bannon is “taking over the role of the Republican Party” with his support of conservative challengers to establishment lawmakers in 2018.
“I think what Bannon is doing is slowly but surely taking over the role of the Republican Party, and people joining Bannon are [doing the same],” he said. “The Republican Party is obviously not with [President] Trump on balance — you have some in the House who are — but the Republican Party on balance is not with Trump.”
He argued that the GOP is becoming indistinguishable from the Democratic Party as the two parties join “on issue after issue” and ignore the voices of the people who elected them.
“Some people make an argument that there really isn’t a Republican Party left. I mean, there are people who call themselves that and they go out and raise money and they raise a lot,” he said. “But whereas the party used to be known for one, two, or three very serious things, they’re not anymore,” he said. “When the Republican Party joins the Democratic Party on things like amnesty for illegal immigrants — that’s not the Republican Party.”