Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Senate Candidate Kelli Ward’s Many Ties to Steve Bannon

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon spoke at Kelli Ward's campaign kickoff in October. Now, Ward is downplaying her ties to the former Breitbart chairman.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon spoke at Kelli Ward's campaign kickoff in October. Now, Ward is downplaying her ties to the former Breitbart chairman. Laura Ingraham/Twitter
On Thursday, Dr. Kelli Ward went on CNN to talk about her Senate campaign amid the racist former sheriff’s entry into a nightmarish Arizona Senate race. The network also brought up Steve Bannon and his support for Ward in the context of Bannon's falling-out with the Trump administration.

Ward’s response? Basically: I hardly know Steve Bannon.

"Steve Bannon — you know, I don't know that I actually really got a full endorsement from Steve," Ward said haltingly.

Not quite true, and maybe the reason Ward hesitated. "Oh, I think you were his candidate," the host said.

"No," Ward said, circling back to Trump. "Actually, I think that my message resonated with things Donald Trump said on the campaign trail."

The interviewer pointed out that Ward's own press release proudly stated that she was endorsed by Steve Bannon.

"Yes," Ward conceded, "but he was never part of my campaign, he was never an adviser, he's not somebody that I reach out and talk to in any way, shape, or form. So it's funny that you, and especially the establishment, would love to tie me to Steve Bannon."

This 180-degree reversal from Ward, a fringe far-right candidate and former Arizona state senator, is mind-bending to watch.

Despite her attempts to downplay it, Ward's campaign was closely aligned with Bannon and Breitbart from the beginning. Campaign cash from a Bannon patron and a Bannon-tied political action committee flowed to Ward. Two former Ward campaign staffers ran her Senate race after working as Breitbart reporters.

And less than three months ago, Ward held a campaign kickoff event in Scottsdale, where Bannon was the marquee name, along with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. Bannon railed against the "globalist elite."

This campaign kickoff with Bannon (it wasn't really a kickoff — Ward has been campaigning for Flake's seat pretty much since she got trounced by John McCain in the 2016 primary, but whatever) is just one piece of the Bannon-Breitbart machine that backed Ward.

Two staffers who ran Ward's campaign until October both previously worked as writers for Breitbart, Bannon's noxious far-right site. Dustin Stockton was Ward's chief strategist and Jennifer Lawrence served as Ward's press flack.

Stockton and Lawrence had an acrimonious split from Ward’s campaign this fall, around the same time as Bannon's appearance at the rally. In a vague statement that didn't address why they were departing, the two Breitbart alums apologized for "helping legitimize the candidacy of Kelli Ward."

The Ward campaign received campaign contributions from the Bannon-affiliated Great America PAC that has also supported other Bannon-ite insurgent candidates. Ward received $20,000 from the PAC at the height of the feud between Trump and Jeff Flake. And the PAC put out a statement in October that plainly said Bannon "is supportive of Ward."

The same PAC donated to the Bannon-supported candidate Roy Moore in Alabama's Senate race, where the accused pedophile was defeated. Moreover, after Ward's campaign shakeup in October, Great America PAC chairman and Republican strategist Ed Rollins became her campaign chairman, a legally dubious move given that federal election rules prohibit coordination between PACs and a politician's campaign.

Shadowy billionaire and longtime Bannon patron Robert Mercer also donated $300,000 to a different super PAC supporting Ward, KelliPAC. Additionally, he donated to this super PAC during Ward's ill-fated 2016 campaign against McCain. (Mercer's family has seemingly disowned Bannon.)

But all this apparently means nothing to Ward now that Trump is on the warpath against Bannon. The publication of a book, Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury, prompted Trump and other onetime patrons and allies to drop him because of Bannon's disparaging comments in the book about Trump's mental state and Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians in Trump tower.

Ward's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sharp-eyed political reporters noted that as of this week, Ward has scrubbed Bannon's name from the list of endorsements at the bottom of her press releases.
You could get whiplash as a result of following Ward's journey from a Bannon acolyte benefitting from Mercer money to her appearance on CNN Thursday morning. Ward plainly said Bannon is persona non grata to her campaign because of his comments about Trump.

"I am distancing myself from Steve Bannon," Ward said on CNN. "He's made some significant mistakes, significant gaffes that are unacceptable to me. I support the president, I support the president's family."
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty