Capitol Alert

Steve Bannon: Secession will be a ‘problem’ in California

Steve Bannon warned Californians Friday that if they don’t roll back a newly approved “sanctuary state” law, their leftist leaders “are going to try to secede from the union” in the next decade to 15 years.

In a speech to California Republicans, Bannon compared the state’s fraught relationship with President Donald Trump to the dynamic between South Carolina and the United States under former President Andrew Jackson, who threatened to send the U.S. Army into the state and considered hanging John C. Calhoun, a states rights proponent, from a lamppost.

“We thought the secession issue was settled 150 years ago,” said Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and the chairman of Breitbart News. “And it’s going to be a ... problem here in California.”

Bannon, predicting the coalition Trump rode to election could hold together for 50 to 75 years, also pilloried former President George W. Bush and dismissed U.S. Sen. John McCain as “just another senator from Arizona.”

Bannon took aim at Bush, calling him a “a piece of work” and charging that he “had no idea what he was talking about” when he rejected Bannon’s nationalist worldview Thursday, “just like it was when he was president of the United States.”

When Bannon mentioned McCain, who gave a similarly tough assessment of his policies earlier this week, someone in the crowd cried out “hang him.”

Bannon also tore into Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell but declined to criticize former Bush adviser Karl Rove because he said it was beneath him.

While Bannon is popular with the party faithful, his presence angered Republicans who for years have worked to broaden their appeal in California.

The party embracing Bannon demonstrates its determination to split “in half” its remaining roughly 25 percent share of voters, said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist based in Sacramento.

“Steve Bannon speaking to the GOP convention is essentially Republicans waving a ‘white flag of surrender’ – not just on trying to be politically relevant, but on standing strong for conservative principles over a cowardly nativist world view,” Madrid said.

He noted the last three Republican presidential candidates have rejected Bannon’s nationalists worldview. Bush warned in a speech Thursday about “nationalism distorted into nativism,” adding that American identity “is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.”

“Today,” Madrid said ahead of Bannon’s speech, “the party representing the home state of Ronald Reagan capitulated to a weak, protectionist, race-based ideology that undermines the American ideal and the foundation of a once Grand Old Party.”

California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte said he had “no concerns” about any backlash for the party, and a deputy with the party pointed to the high interest in attendees who paid $100 for the dinner speech and $300 for the VIP reception, including a picture with Bannon.

Brulte has often turned to the party’s most fierce activists to help defray the cost of conventions and drive excitement. Democrats, meantime, needled their rivals for welcoming “a race-baiting thug masquerading as a pseudo-intellectual,” as California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman put it.

“California is doing just fine without the racist, divisive blather that Mr. Bannon is peddling,” added the billionaire liberal activist and donor Tom Steyer.

California’s sanctuary law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this month, placed new limitations on state and local law enforcement’s ability to help the federal government enforce immigration violations. The Democratic governor argued that the measure strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear of deportation.

In his speech, Bannon argued that U.S. citizens “should have preference for jobs and economic opportunity” and defended his populist worldview as the best way to unify his own fractured party, including the establishment and evangelicals.

“Economic nationalism is not what’s going to drive us apart,” Bannon said. “It’s what’s going to bind us together.”

He declared that the only thing that matters is winning and suggested Democrats and the Republican establishment were frightened of Trump, whom he described as an “existential threat to the system” that “goes right to the heart of the beast.”

Bannon predicted House Republicans would keep control after the midterm elections, including winning all of the seven seats threatened in California.

“Nancy Pelosi is not gonna get her chance to impeach the president of the United States,” he said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Saturday similarly rallied California Republicans, urging them to hold fast to conservative principles rather than become “Democrat-lite” in an effort to compromise with the majority party governing their state.

McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, blasted Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León for passing a state law this year making California a so-called “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants.

And he jabbed former Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes for working with Democrats earlier this year to extend the state’s landmark climate change policy.

“My advice for those Assembly members in Sacramento – you will not win a majority ... if you’re concerned about being able to stand behind the podium with a Democratic governor,” McCarthy said, apparently referencing a news conference earlier this year at which Mayes stood alongside Democrats to tout the Legislature’s deal extending California’s cap-and-trade program.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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