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FAIRHOPE, Ala. — Steve Bannon came to Alabama to stump for Roy Moore, but he spent more time attacking national Republicans — including Mitt Romney and his family — than Doug Jones, his Democratic opponent in next week's Senate election.
Romney and his five sons topped Bannon's hit list, which also included Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bannon’s favorite punching bag, even though the Kentucky Republican just handed Trump his biggest legislative victory yet.
In a particularly nasty and personal attack, Bannon, the Breitbart News chairman and former presidential strategist, went after Romney's children and Mormon faith, slamming the former GOP presidential nominee for not serving in the Vietnam War and his sons for not putting on the uniform.
Breaking News Emails
"You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in Vietnam. Do not talk about honor and integrity," Bannon said.
Bannon was infuriated by Romney's tweet on Monday in which he wrote that Moore would be a "stain" on the GOP and the country.
Bannon is trying to keep Romney, one of the GOP's most prominent Trump critics, from launching a bid for a Utah Senate seat. And Bannon's vitriol even extended to Romney's sons.
"You ran for commander in chief and had five sons — not one day of service in Afghanistan or Iraq. We have 7,000 dead and 52,000 casualties, and where were the Romneys during those wars?" Bannon asked. "Judge Roy Moore has more honor and integrity in his pinky finger than your entire family."
The attacks elicited cheers from a crowd of several hundred Moore supporters, who packed into a barn here and waved pro-Bannon and Breitbart News signs.
On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is a Mormon, came to Romney's defense.
"I... resent anyone attacking any person's religious views, but particularly our own Christian (Latter-day Saints) faith and the selfless service of missionary work," Hatch said in a statement. "I'd be more than happy to sit down with Mr. Bannon and help him understand more about the (Mormon) Church at his convenience. I’ve got a copy of the Book of Mormon with his name on it."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tweeted, "Whether you agree or disagree with him on any matter of public policy, you can't credibly call into question his patriotism or moral character — especially on the basis of his religious beliefs or his outstanding service as a missionary."
McConnell on Wednesday called Romney a "truly remarkable Republican" and said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show that Bannon is a "specialist" in "nominating people who lose."
At roughly the same time that Bannon was on the attack, Trump, who himself received five Vietnam draft deferments, was speaking to Romney by phone from the White House on Tuesday night, a source close to Romney told NBC News. Trump called Romney in what was described as a "courtesy call," following the president's visit to Romney's home state of Utah on Monday.
In Alabama on Tuesday night, Bannon was on the same stage in the same barn for the same candidate a little over two months ago, just ahead of the GOP primary in late September when Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange. Bannon's message barely changed, even though Moore is now locked in a fight against Jones.
Even after McConnell got a major tax bill through the Senate, Bannon slammed the majority leader for not doing more.
"We’re going to hold you accountable, Mitch," Bannon declared, saying real conservatives "hold you in total contempt."
"By the way Mitch, the tax cuts aren't going to save you," Bannon added.
Bannon went on to mock Flake, who announced Tuesday that he would put "country over party" by donating $100 to Jones' campaign.
"C'mon brother, if you're going to write a check, write a check," Bannon said of the amount, before ridiculing Flake's approval ratings.
Finally, Bannon zeroed in on the reason he had come here.
He attacked Jones as a "radical" and a "globalist," saying he had spent decades doing the bidding of Hillary and Bill Clinton.
"A vote for Doug Jones is a vote for the Clinton agenda," Bannon said.
And he called the accusations of sexual impropriety that have roiled Moore's campaign "a setup" from the “opposition party," by which he meant the press.
"If they can destroy Roy Moore, they can destroy you," Bannon said.
Moore has run a thin campaign since the accusations first broke, with few TV ads and fewer public events. But Bannon stuck with the candidate even as seemingly every other national Republican abandoned him.
Now Moore is back on the upswing, thanks in part to Trump's endorsement, which cleared the way for others to jump in, including the Republican National Committee.
A pro-Trump group said Tuesday it planned to spend $1.1 million in the final week of the race, and a Bannon-aligned group has pitched in several hundred thousand more.
The money, and a boost from Bannon, could be a crucial lifeline for Moore, who has been outspent 10-to-1 by Jones in recent weeks.
Moore took the stage Tuesday night, dressed in a suit and tie, not the cowboy hat and vest he wore in September, when he waved a pistol on stage.
Protesters interrupted the event twice, but they were swiftly dealt with by a heavy security presence that included both uniformed police officers and plainclothes guards.
"There’s been a lot of fake news," Moore said, portraying himself once again as a victim of a smear campaign.
"I think they’re afraid I’m going to take Alabama values to Washington," Moore said, "and I want to tell you, I can't wait."
Alex Seitz-Wald reported from Alabama and Peter Alexander from Washington, D.C.