Utah could be Steve Bannon’s next battleground, especially if Mitt Romney runs

  • Callum Borchers
  • The Washington Post
7:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 Nation & World
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Steve Bannon speaks before introducing Republican Senatorial candidate Roy Moore during a campaign event at Oak Hollow Farm on December 5, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama. Mr. Moore is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones in next week's special election for the U.S. Senate.

Stephen Bannon needs a new project, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, might have just given him one by announcing Tuesday that he will not seek re-election this year. 

Bloomberg News reported in October that Bannon was planning to play in almost every Republican Senate primary contest, anyway, but a couple of the Breitbart News chief's would-be targets — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. — have said that they plan to leave Washington without a fight. 

What fun is that? 

The race to succeed Hatch in Utah could represent an irresistible challenge for Bannon, especially if Mitt Romney runs. As I have noted before, Romney and Breitbart News were very friendly in 2012, when the former Massachusetts governor was the GOP presidential nominee. But since Romney lost to Barack Obama — an event that roughly coincided with Bannon assuming control of Breitbart — Romney has become a symbol of the political establishment Breitbart reviles. 

When Romney opposed Roy Moore, Bannon's favored candidate in last month's special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Bannon hit Romney with a personal attack. 

"You hid behind your religion," Bannon said at a rally for Moore, referring to Romney's Mormon faith. "You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam." 

Just imagine what Bannon might say if Romney actually becomes a candidate for office. 

Bannon, of course, would need to find a Romney opponent to back — ideally one who won't be accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, like Moore, or cozy up to white supremacists, like Paul Nehlen, a challenger to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., whom Breitbart supported in 2016. 

The good news for Bannon is that expectations would be low for any candidate running against Romney, who is highly popular in Utah. The last candidate Bannon supported in Utah, President Donald Trump, won the state in the 2016 general election but finished third in the Republican primary, 55 points behind Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and just behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich. 

Utah is a great state for Romney and a bad one for Bannon, which means that the former White House chief strategist would be under little pressure. If he could field a candidate who could avoid embarrassment and make Romney sweat — even a little — Bannon might be able to use the Utah race as a big stage to take some shots at the GOP leadership.