President Trump has not yet publicly cast blame for Roy Moore’s defeat for Senate in deep red Alabama, but inside the White House, his team is sharply divided and pointing fingers.
The top two targets: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
“Just look at his negatives and how that has had an impact,” one White House official said of McConnell, referring to the impression that conservative, anti-establishment Republican voters in the Deep South have of the Senate leader and Washington politicians generally.
The official also said that the loss exposes a vulnerability for Republicans and the White House going into the midterm elections.
One source close to the president derided McConnell’s “cracker jack political operation” and another faulted McConnell for “miscalculating” the Alabama race. Trump carried the state by 28 points in 2016.
McConnell supported Moore’s rival, Luther Strange, in the GOP primary (as did Trump) and distanced himself from Moore during the general election campaign.
But other Trump aides have said privately the loss for Moore — whom Trump recently endorsed and campaigned for — is mostly an indictment of Bannon and his political philosophy.
One senior official put the blame squarely on Bannon, who stumped for Moore, saying “we never should have gotten involved and we didn’t need to.” The official acknowledged the president was leaning toward supporting Moore, but Bannon, who was forced out of the White House in August, was key in urging him to do so. Others in the White House were counseling him to remain on the sidelines.
“Hopefully this has taught him [the President] a lesson, that Steve is full of s—” another West Wing official said, referring to Bannon.
“Obviously the political shop has to bear a lot of blame of miscalculating this race,” another White House official conceded, referring to the in-house political arm of the White House, which Bannon used to lead.
Moore’s loss “shows that there’s no political mastermind in the White House” any longer, one source said.
The multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, which he has vehemently denied, have also been cited in the West Wing as a significant factor in the outcome. It was “obviously the allegations” that sealed Moore’s fate, according to another White House official.
According to exit poll data compiled by ABC News, 51 percent thought the allegations against Moore were probably or definitely true. Of those who believed Moore’s accusers, 90 percent backed Jones.
Where does the president fall? It’s not clear.
In a series of morning tweets, Trump suggested that write-in votes were a “very big factor” in Moore’s loss — perhaps an indirect dig at Republicans like Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and others who refused to support Moore and publicly pledged to write in another name.
According to the Alabama secretary of state’s office, Jones led Moore by nearly 21,000 votes. There were nearly 23,000 write-in votes.
But so far, Trump is not signaling outrage at either McConnell or Bannon.
Sources say the president is frustrated and angry — and resigned to a more difficult political environment for Republicans headed into the new year.