Photo: Craig Ruttle, J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Establishment Republicans are getting squeezed to death from within. In what should be nirvana — all-party control of Washington — they instead are jammed daily between a president who routinely ridicules them for ineptitude — and Steve Bannon, who's recruiting hardliners to extinguish their very existence.

Why this matters: The Breitbart News chairman and former White House chief strategist is building a nationwide coalition that — in the words of a former Trump White House official — could "wreak havoc" across the map "if Bannon is even halfways successful."

Bannon's plans are more ominous than publicly known, sources tell Jonathan Swan and me:

  • Some of Bannon's candidates for Republican primaries have privately pledged they'll oppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It's becoming a de facto litmus test in Bannon's recruitment.
  • Bannon vows to support primary challengers against every incumbent Republican senator running for re-election in 2018 — with the sole exception of Ted Cruz. So that could mean seven Bannon GOP challengers, and he has as many as eight Democratic senators in his sights.
  • Bannon is also exploring gubernatorial and House races.
  • As Bannon told Fox's Sean Hannity this week: "Nobody's safe. We're coming after all of them."
  • "Steve views this thing as a coalition," says a source familiar with his plans. "It's a coalition of populists, constitutional conservatives and more libertarian types. But they all agree on Bannon's core issues of trade and immigration."

The GOP establishment is skeptical but scared. Bannon has juice with the base, and feels emboldened about his "House of Pain" after his candidate, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, took down incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in last month's primary.

  • A former official in the Trump White House, dumbfounded and irritated, sent Swan a blitz of text messages: "You watching Bannon [on] Hannity? Most parties descend into civil war following defeat. We're about to have one 11 months after we won everything. How do you get tax reform, infrastructure or health care done in that climate? It's Bannon who could wind up nullifying Trump's presidency."
  • "It's Bannon who could hand a house of a Congress back to Dems."
  • Andy Surabian, a political adviser to Bannon, responded by saying this person was recycling a "tired talking point" that the Republican establishment got wrong in 2010, 2014, and 2016, when grassroots conservatives delivered Republicans the House and the Senate, and White House.

One of the most in-demand Republican operatives says of Bannon: "One year from now everyone is going to reminisce about this in the same way 90s kids do about Ini Kamoza's 'Here Comes the Hotstepper' — 'Oh, yeah. I remember that song. What the hell happened to him? Just that one song, huh?"

  • This operative continues: "Steve Bannon has made himself the center of the campaign at this point and as with all vanity projects, they rise and fall rapidly. He is the single biggest impediment to the Trump agenda, period. Four months from now, it will be a liability beyond comprehension to be associated with Steve Bannon. And every candidate with any aspirations at all will experience that one way or another."

Be smart: Bannon can sound delusional about his power to disrupt the party. But make no mistake: the combo of his fame with the base + access to Mercer money + true belief in America first policies = big trouble for establishment Republicans in 2018 and beyond.

If Bannon were to field the slate he envisions, the Republican Party would have a civil war on its hands that makes 2010 look like a tea party.

Go deeper

Updated 25 mins ago - World

China says U.S. is "endangering peace" with high-level visit to Taiwan

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a June briefing in Washington, DC. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Tuesday night he will lead a delegation to Taiwan "in the coming days."

Why it matters: It's the highest-level visit by a U.S. cabinet official to Taiwan since 1979. Azar is also the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the island state in six years. The visit has angered China, which views Taiwan as part of its territory. Chinese officials accused the U.S. early Wednesday of "endangering peace" with the visit, AFP reports.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 18,543,662 — Total deaths: 700,714 — Total recoveries — 11,143,031Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 a.m. ET: 4,771,236 — Total deaths: 156,807 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. States: New York City health commissioner resigns in protest of De Blasio's coronavirus response — Local governments go to war over schools.
  4. Public health: 59% of Americans support nationwide 2-week stay-at-home order in NPR poll.
  5. Politics: Trump's national security adviser returns to work after coronavirus recovery Republicans push to expand small business loan program.
  6. Sports: Indy 500 to be held without fansRafael Nadal opts out of U.S. Open.
Updated 2 hours ago - World

At least 100 killed, 4,000 injured after massive explosion rocks Beirut

Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

A major explosion has slammed central Beirut, Lebanon, damaging buildings as far as several miles away and injuring scores of people.

Driving the news: At least 100 people have been killed and over 4,000 injured in the blast — and the death toll is likely to rise, the Lebanese Red Cross said, per AP. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the explosions occurred at a warehouse that had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for the past six years.