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Steve Bannon speaks to Hillsborough GOP, but big names stay away

Bannon spoke to a crowd of 250 or more in an event arranged by Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk and local Tea Party-style GOP activist Tom Gaitens.

Former White House political strategist and right-wing firebrand Steve Bannon told a crowd of Republicans in Tampa Friday that Trump supporters need to pump up their energy and enthusiasm for the Nov. 6 mid-term elections, which he called "President Trump's first re-elect."

"This is not a typical mid-term … It's an up or down referendum on the Trump presidency," he said. "You can't localize these elections. Trump has permeated the political culture. He's permeated the popular culture."

Largely credited as the architect of Trump's victory, Bannon didn't draw big names to the Hillsborough County GOP event. No elected officeholders and only two candidates attended the event – Ray Young, candidate for the soil and water board, and Anthony Sabatini, a state House candidate from Lake County. Hillsborough's GOP chairman, however, did say that state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, donated money for the event.

Bannon said the Trump base had lost much of its energy and urgency until the Senate confirmation hearings Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh revived them.

This week's series of mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats, apparently by a deranged Trump backer, could cut that momentum, he said.

Bannon spoke to a crowd of 250 or more in an event arranged by Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairman Jim Waurishuk and local Tea Party-style GOP activist Tom Gaitens – an event that had seemed somewhat shaky.

The local party first billed it as a fundraiser with prices ranging up to $2,000 for premium seats, then dropped the prices by more than half, and then, days before the event, announced on its web site and in an email to members that admission would be free, with an anonymous donor covering costs.

But Waurishuk said that was "a misinterpretation," and that more than half the attendees at the filled event had paid for their tickets.

Several donors gave money to allow attendance by grass-roots volunteers who couldn't afford fundraiser prices, he said.

Bannon said the Kavanaugh hearings had unified the establishment and Trump wings of the GOP.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans "did not cut and run," he said. "They hung tough. … That was a proxy on Trump's presidency."

Bannon said he would "leave aside" the issue of the accusation of attempted rape against Kavanaugh by Christine Ford, but that the important thing was the GOP win.

"If you folded then, it was over," he said. "You're gonna lose the Senate, you're gonna lose the House, you're gonna stop the Trump program in its tracks."

Bannon has been touring his country giving similar speeches and showing his film, "Trump At War" to rally the Trump base for the mid-terms.

It portrays Trump as a heroic figure victimized radical political and media opponents intent on preventing his transformation of American politics and government.

Trump's opponents "got it very quickly .. that Trump is a transformative president and a historic figure," intent on "deconstruction of the administrative state – taking apart the leviathan brick by brick," he said.

"The progressive left, they understand one central thing – Donald Trump is going to be in their personal lives, 20, 30, and 40 years from now" because of his changes in the federal judiciary and other branches of government, he said. "For them it's like a Kafkaesque novel."

He said supporters shouldn't be distracted by Trump's sometimes offensive Twitter comments or his personal life.

"If he didn't have the Twitter he wouldn't be president," Bannon said. "You're going to get a Stormy Daniels and a Horseface," a reference to his insulting nickname for the porn star who alleges she had an affair with Trump. "He has a certain kind of style and it's part of the package."

Bannon rehearsed rhetoric and themes used by Trump himself, including referring to Trump's opponents as "an angry mob" and spending much of his speech attacking Hillary Clinton and news reporters.

He called Clinton "Crooked Hillary, a representative of an incompetent and corrupt elite," and said mainstream news organizations had begun a "nullification project" as soon as Trump was elected to destroy his presidency.

But he predicted that the policies of economic populism he pushed Trump to adopt eventually will capture large segments of Bernie Sanders voters, blacks and Hispanics, creating "a realignment like 1932, and we're going to be able to govern this country for 50-100 years."