Some Bannon-backed Senate hopefuls begin distancing themselves amid Trump feud
Posted January 3, 2018 4:52 p.m. EST
Updated January 3, 2018 8:38 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Several Republican candidates endorsed by Steve Bannon began distancing themselves from the former White House chief strategist Wednesday after President Donald Trump said Bannon had "lost his mind."
Two Bannon-backed Senate hopefuls downplayed the importance of his support and underscored their commitment to Trump's agenda.
In Arizona, a spokesman for Kelli Ward -- the conservative that hard-liner Bannon backed even as leading GOP strategists and Trump himself attempted to recruit someone else into the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake -- cast Bannon's endorsement as unimportant.
"Steve Bannon is only one of many high-profile endorsements Dr. Ward has received. Her focus remains on winning this race, which she is in a great position to do, and then helping President Trump advance an America First agenda," Ward press secretary Zachery Henry said.
Trump hammered Bannon in a remarkable four-paragraph statement after adapted excerpts of a forthcoming book in which Bannon described a Trump Tower meeting between Trump's son and a group of Russians as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" were released. The Wall Street Journal later reported that in another section of the book, Bannon is quoted describing Ivanka Trump as "dumb as a brick."
A spokeswoman for West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Bannon-backed candidate who faces Rep. Evan Jenkins in the primary before a match-up with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, criticized Bannon's remarks about Trump's family.
"Patrick Morrisey has been endorsed by many conservatives throughout West Virginia and America because of his strong conservative record. Attorney General Morrisey does not support these attacks on President Trump and his family, and was proud to stand with President Trump in 2016 when they were both overwhelmingly elected in West Virginia and when he cast his vote for Trump in the Electoral College," Morrisey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said.
Her comment came an hour after Jenkins said in a statement that Morrisey "should immediately disavow Bannon's support."
Michael Grimm, a House candidate from New York who months ago heaped praise on Bannon, also sharply criticized the Breitbart executive.
"I strongly denounce the comments by Steve Bannon as quoted by Michael Wolff. They are baseless attacks against the President's family, beyond disturbing, and I fully support our Commander in Chief," Grimm said in a statement.
Others offered at least tepid support for Bannon.
In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller's campaign seized on the Trump-Bannon feud to attack his primary opponent, the Bannon-backed Danny Tarkanian.
"Danny Tarkanian and Steve Bannon are frauds whose only skill is losing elections and costing Republicans seats," said Heller spokesman Keith Schipper.
Tarkanian, meanwhile, was the only candidate to say directly Wednesday that he still wants Bannon's support.
"If Mr. Bannon chooses to support me in our effort to repeal and replace Dean Heller with someone who will truly have the President's back, I welcome his support," he said.
In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel is considering launching a primary challenge against Sen. Roger Wicker -- with Bannon's encouragement. McDaniel also didn't distance himself from Bannon on Wednesday.
"The establishment's swamp monsters in Washington would like nothing more than to refill the swamp. Conservatives need to work together, not tear each other apart," he said in a text message when asked about the Trump-Bannon feud. "If we are divided, they win. We can't let them win."
In other Senate races, Bannon has endorsed Attorney General Josh Hawley in Missouri, state auditor Matt Rosendale in Montana, Rep. Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee and businessman Kevin Nicholson in Wisconsin.