WASHINGTON — Former White House strategist Steve Bannon defended President Donald Trump's agenda in the wake of Tuesday's electoral debacle for Republicans.
Virginia voters didn't reject Trump by electing Democrat Ralph Northam governor, they just didn't like Republican Ed Gillespie's pale imitation of Trump's platform, Bannon said Wednesday night.
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Speaking to local Republicans in Macomb County, Mich. — a virtual political North Star that has picked the winner in each of the last four presidential contests and was home to many of the "Reagan Democrats" of the 1980s — Bannon described Gillespie as an establishment candidate who tried a Trump-light approach to campaigning in a Democratic-blue state.
"One of the things about the Gillespie campaign, is that you can't fake the Trump agenda," Bannon said. "This is a winning agenda. ... This is the agenda America needs now."
Bannon's comments punctuated a day of finger-pointing between the GOP establishment and the party's Trump wing. Trump, Bannon and their allies largely blamed Gillespie and the political demographics of Virginia for the defeat, while many establishment Republicans believe Trump is creating headwinds for his party going into next year's midterm election.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in an email to NBC News that GOP leaders in Washington will face the wrath of voters if they don't find a way to legislate — which they've struggled to do on major pieces of the party's agenda.
"Despite the rush of campaigns and the fiery rhetoric, when it’s all said and done people expect you to govern," Steele said. "There are no more excuses now for the incompetence that the American people have witnessed. ... Last night, the message was loud and clear: it’s time to govern."
In Michigan Wednesday night, Bannon said Republicans should stick to Trump's tack, which he described as an "economic nationalism" that "binds us together."
Trump's promise to focus on "America first" — by cracking down on immigration, tearing up trade deals and bringing U.S. military forces home — played well in Macomb County, where he won 54 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 42 percent in the 2016 election. Bannon told the Macomb County GOP that he was surprised Clinton didn't spend more time in Michigan and that he had agreed to appear at the event because of the county's importance in delivering Trump's victories in the state and the Electoral College.