On Tuesday, Senator Jeff Flake announced he would not seek re-election as a strange anti-Trump act of valor. Reactions to Flake’s retirement ranged from feigned shock to actually quite excited. Rep. Ted Lieu, for example, gleefully welcomed Flake to #TheResistance (for reasons I cannot quite comprehend).
But no one was more thrilled to see Flake go than Steve Bannon, current far-right crusader and onetime White House strategist. “Our movement will defeat you in primaries or for you to retire,” he said, per Breitbart’s editor, Alex Marlow. “The days of establishment Republicans who oppose the people’s America First agenda are numbered.”
Breitbart, the virulent conservative blog Bannon chairs, reiterated his elation with a characteristically unsubtle tweet following Flake’s announcement:
Since leaving the Trump administration, Bannon has declared a war on “the Republican establishment” and vowed to back candidates challenging them in the primaries. Flake, who was up for re-election in 2018, faced a Bannon-backed former Arizona state senator, Kelli Ward, in the primary. Robert Mercer, a billionaire who funds Bannon’s pet projects and causes, donated $300,000 to a super PAC aligned with Ward in August.
Sam Nunberg, one of President Trump’s former campaign advisers and ally of Bannon, described Flake’s retirement in the bleakest of terms. “Bannon has three scalps so far: Corker, Strange, and now Flake,” he told The Washington Examiner. “It’s no coincidence that Flake officially dropped out only a week after Laura Ingraham and Steve Bannon campaigned for Kelli Ward. This Bannon Movement is real.”