News & Politics

Steve Bannon's Latest Recruit? War Profiteer Erik Prince for Senate

Controversial Blackwater founder (and Betsy DeVos’ brother) may be a centerpiece in Bannon’s plan for GOP conquest.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

Over the weekend, in between tweeting insults at Sen. Bob Corker and running "Mission Accomplished" videos that would have made Leni Riefenstahl proud, Donald Trump tweeted this:

He also told the press corps that he believes chief of staff John Kelly would be around for "7 years," indicating that he assumes he'll have the White House for two terms. Politico's Gabriel DeBenedetti reports that Trump is already gearing up for the 2020 campaign, looking at upcoming midterms in certain states for insight into the best path forward:

The stepped-up attention to 2020 is partly a recognition that dozens of Democrats are already seriously eyeing presidential runs of their own. But it’s also a reflection of the near-obsession with keeping Trump’s base voters on his side — a mind-set that permeates the White House, said multiple Republican operatives and lawmakers.

What’s unclear to Trump-backing Republicans: the degree to which the president’s base support in the industrial Midwest is waning or holding fast; whether the young minority voters who failed to show up for Hillary Clinton after supporting Barack Obama will return to the next Democratic nominee; and whether the power of Trump’s political celebrity is wearing off.

It's quite clear that Trump dislikes governing and really just wants to hold rallies and have everyone cheer him like a rock star before he goes out to play golf. It's not surprising that he would prefer to think about the 2020 campaign, since that's where all the fun is for him. I think we can be sure that he'll be hitting the trail on a regular basis very soon.

His public feuds with senators from his own party, including Mitch McConnell, John McCain and now Bob Corker, show that Trump has no interest in shoring up his relationship with the Republican establishment and will attack anyone he feels someone has been unfaithful to him. Most elected GOP officials have assiduously avoided doing anything to displease him, following the lead of Speaker Paul Ryan, whose obsequiousness reached new heights last week when he solemnly affirmed that Trump's "heart is in the right place" on racial issues and declared that "he has tremendous compassion," which can be discerned by the fact that he "drops everything" to go to disaster areas.

Trump appreciates that, no doubt, but it won't buy Ryan any goodwill from the president. He should remember that even Trump's most submissive sycophants have been tossed aside without a second thought if he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed one morning.

To the extent that Trump's following any plan or strategy, it would appear that the aforementioned base-stroking is about it. But that will dovetail nicely with the plan outlined by his former senior adviser and keeper of the alt-right flame, Steve Bannon, to stoke division within the party and replace many Republican incumbents with people more likely to advance his apocalyptic vision of the future. Bannon's endorsement of the odious wingnut Roy Moore in Alabama is a perfect example: The crazier the better, as far as he's concerned.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Bannon has chosen his next candidate: Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater security firm that was accused of killing civilians in Iraq. Prince been under investigation by the government for money laundering and attempts to broker his mercenary services to foreign governments. According to Jeremy Scahill and Matthew Cole of the Intercept, Prince has been "working with a small cadre of loyalists — including a former South African commando, a former Australian air force pilot, and a lawyer with dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel ... to secretly rebuild his private CIA and special operations enterprise by setting up foreign shell companies and offering paramilitary services."

Is it any surprise that he's welcomed into Trump's inner circle?

More recently, Prince has been implicated in the Russia investigation after attempting to set up a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles islands. Oh, and he has been pushing the idea of mercenaries taking over many of the duties of the "inefficient" U.S. military, which is unfortunately hamstrung by laws against war crimes. He got Trump interested in his plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan and installing himself as a sort of colonial viceroy -- using the British East India Company as his model -- by telling Trump that there were many minerals available for the taking. (We know how Trump feels about that -- to the victors belong the spoils). Luckily, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis chased Bannon and Prince out the door when they presented him with their nifty plan.

But Prince is just the right combination of radical and crazy for Bannon's total GOP destruction strategy. He's got access to lots of his family's Amway money, and they are far-right evangelicals who have run in Mike Pence's circles for years. (Have we mentioned that Prince's sister is Betsy DeVos, Trump's secretary of education?) Prince could be a real asset to the Trump-Bannon chaos crusade.

Prince is considering a primary challenge to Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a hardcore conservative Republican who has backed Trump every step of the way. Taking on someone like Barrasso could be seen as Bannon's test case -- taking a shot at a random conservative with whom he and Trump have no particular beef, just to prove he can. Installing an unstable radical in office is his specialty, so he might just do it.

Normally, I'd think exchanging Barasso for Prince is no big deal. They would likely vote the same way at least 90 percent of the time. It might keep Prince out of trouble to be stuck in the slow-moving rich man's club of the U.S. Senate, rather than out causing trouble in the real world.  But Prince is very rich and he's got a certain creepy charisma, which is Bannon's special presidential recipe. If Trump manages to win again in 2020, Sen. Erik Prince could become a logical successor. Trump wouldn't think twice about throwing the subservient Mike Pence overboard so a macho-man former Navy Seal could follow in his footsteps.

 

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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