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Bannon Bashes Bush, Raises Specter Of California Secession

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

Steve Bannon, a former White House adviser to President Donald Trump, speaks at the California Republican Convention in Anaheim, Calf., on Friday Oct. 20, 2017.

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

He slammed former President George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

He gave a full-throated defense of “economic nationalism” and the rights of U.S. citizens.

And he suggested that California is on the road toward secession from the union.

Breitbart executive chairman and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon drew raucous cheers from a sold-out crowd at the California Republican Party convention Friday night in Anaheim as he continued his “civil war” against the GOP establishment in one of the bluest states in the nation.

“You’ve got a very dangerous thing going on in this state,” Bannon said, comparing California’s new “sanctuary state” law to South Carolina refusing to allow federal tariffs in the 1830s.

The crowd booed when Bannon mentioned the names of Bush and McCain, who both gave speeches this week sharply criticizing President Donald Trump without naming him.

“There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush’s,” Bannon said, mocking the 43rd president’s speech Thursday in which Bush condemned “nationalism distorted into nativism.”

“It’s clear he didnt understand anything that he was talking about,” Bannon added, “just like it was when he was President of the United States."

“John McCain deserves our respect,” Bannon went on, citing the senator’s military service and fight against brain cancer. “However, as a politician, John McCain’s just another senator from Arizona.”

Bannon, who now calls himself Trump’s “wingman” outside the White House, said Republicans have the opportunity to effect real change while they control the executive branch and both chambers of Congress.

“There’s absolutely nothing we can’t do,” he said, “if we do one thing – if we move with urgency.”

But “the United States Senate in particular has done a terrible job supporting President Trump,” he said, adding that the Republican establishment needs to step up.

As for his core political philosophy: “Economic nationalism is not what’s going to drive us apart. It’s what’s going to bind us together,” Bannon said. “It’s not about your race, your color, your gender, your religion, your ethnicity, your sexual preference – it’s about one thing: Are you a citizen of the United States of America?”

American citizens, he said, should “have preference for jobs and economic opportunities.”

Despite the chunks of red meat he threw the crowd about national politics, Bannon’s remarks about California were relatively limited.

It was more than a half-hour into his roughly 40-minute speech before he fully turned his attention to a state his former boss lost last year by more than 4 million votes.

But when he did, he raised the prospect of California progressives mounting a secession push.

President Andrew Jackson, Bannon said, worried that if South Carolina could pick and choose which federal laws to enforce, it would eventually secede.

“He was gonna send the army into South Carolina,” Bannon told the crowd of California Republicans Friday night. “And he told somebody, ‘And if I have to, I’m gonna hang (former Vice President and then-South Carolina Sen.) John C. Calhoun from a lamppost. But we’re gonna enforce federal law.’”

If California does not roll back the “sanctuary state” law, Bannon said, within 10 to 15 years, “the folks in Silicon Valley and the progressive left in this state are gonna try to secede from the union.”

He then pivoted to a pep talk, suggesting that “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

“It looks like, now, it’s impossible to do anything in California, right? Demographics (are) against you, the media’s against you, the culture’s against you,” Bannon said. “It couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got everything you need to win. You’ve got authentic people. You’ve got big ideas. And you have a grassroots – you have the muscle.”

Many GOP activists at the convention eagerly anticipated Bannon’s remarks.

“Am I excited about listening to a man that’s going to be part of the solution to bring our country back to self-government the way it was created by the Constitutional Convention in 1787?” said Marin County Republican Central Committee treasurer Jack Wilkinson. “I’m excited about it.”

“Bannon is somebody that has a world view that’s very advanced,” said Kate Wright of Los Angeles. “For me, he’s one of the most intellectually advanced people that we’ve ever had in public life. And he sees the world in terms of historical cycles."

But Bannon’s appearance angered other California Republicans.

“I don’t think that starting a civil war when we’re sitting (at) less than 26 percent of voter registration makes a whole lot of sense,” Asm. Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), who stepped down as Assembly Republican Leader earlier this year, told Capital Public Radio Friday afternoon.

Mayes said he was “shocked” that the California GOP had invited Bannon to speak.

“The party’s got to be united,” Mayes said. “We need to start reaching out to independents. We’ve got to start reaching out to Democrats. That’s the only way we’re going to win in this state. And picking fights with each other is not the way to do it.”

Republican strategist Mike Madrid flew down from Sacramento just to denounce Bannon.

“I think it’s a very bad tactical idea” that the state GOP brought Bannon to the convention, Madrid said. “But more importantly, I think it’s an atrocious idea from a moral perspective.

“As Reagan said, it’s a time for choosing. So that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m standing up, and that’s why I’m being vocal about this problem inflicting the party,” Madrid added. “It’s worth fighting for – not just for the party’s sake but for democracy’s sake.”

 Steve Bannon

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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