Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon name-dropped Sen. John McCain in a speech to California Republicans on Friday, eliciting loud boos and even a call to "hang him" from the crowd. In a keynote address delivered during California Republicans' fall convention in Anaheim, Bannon ripped into both McCain and former President George W. Bush, deriding their leadership and intelligence much to the apparent pleasure of the crowd.
In a sign the state's Republican party may have moved away from the GOP establishment, Bannon's attack on Bush and McCain appeared fairly well received by the crowd at the California Republican Party Fall 2017 Convention. In fact, when Bannon mentioned Sen. McCain, the crowd booed and someone reportedly yelled out "Hang him!" the Sacramento Bee reported.
McCain's continued opposition to Republican leaders' health care legislation has left President Donald Trump and the GOP unable to pass a repeal of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bannon applauded McCain for his military service in his keynote address Friday before questioning his leadership and influence. Ultimately, Bannon characterized McCain as "just another senator from Arizona."
Bannon, who returned to the helm of far-right website Breitbart News after leaving his White House post earlier this year, also attacked former President Bush. "President Bush, to me, embarrassed himself," Bannon told the crowd at the California Republican Party's Fall 2017 Convention, referencing a speech Bush gave in New York earlier in the week in which he publicly rebuked Trump for promoting bigotry.
The speechwriter wrote a highfalutin' speech, it's clear [Bush] didn't understand anything he was talking about. ... He has no earthly idea whether he's coming or going, just like it was when he was president of the United States.
Bannon, who has previously called himself Trump's wingman, went on to wholly condemn Bush's presidency. "There has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's," Bannon said to a smattering of applause.
But some critics saw little value in Bannon's speech. In a statement released Friday, California Democratic Party Chairman Eric C. Bauman said:
Steve Bannon is a race-baiting thug masquerading as a pseudo-intellectual. ... Let's be absolutely clear: Steve Bannon's slimy politics are the politics of rapacious greed, ignorant fear, and astounding contempt for women, people of color, the LGBT community, immigrants, and the poor and middle class.
Bauman claimed membership to the California Republican Party had dwindled because the party continued to embrace "hateful, divisive men like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump."
Bannon's presence at the convention also chafed some members of the California Republican party. Mike Madrid, a Sacramento-based Republican strategist, told the Sacramento Bee:
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.
Others, however, welcomed Bannon's rhetoric and credited him with filling a significant number of seats. According to POLITICO, tickets to the convention dinner Bannon spoke at ran $100 a plate with some attendees shelling out $300 for a "VIP" package that included a reception and photo op with Bannon.
Former California assemblyman Tim Donnelly told POLITICO that Bannon was "the only reason a lot of these people are coming to the convention." Donnelly also claimed "the energy of what is left of the conservative movement here is absolutely with Bannon."
But Bannon's speech wasn't all personal attacks on establishment Republicans. The Breitbart executive also urged California Republicans to come together despite their differences in order to take the state back from Democrats who have long held a majority.
Victory begets victory. We don't have a problem with ideas. We have a problem of understanding how to win. It is about winning. Nothing else matters. If you want to take your state back, if you want to take your country back, you're going to have to roll your sleeves up.
Lindsey Kortyka contributed to this report.