ST. LOUIS (AP) — Former White House strategist Steve Bannon told conservatives Sunday at a rally that they needn't worry about Democrats but instead should focus on the "corrupt and incompetent Republican establishment."
Bannon spoke to about 400 people at a St. Louis hotel during the rally hosted by Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, a spinoff of the conservative think tank Eagle Forum that Schlafly founded and led until her death last year at age 92.
The rally came at a tense time in St. Louis, where nearly 200 people have been arrested in protest since Sept. 15, when a judge acquitted a white former police officer in the fatal shooting of a black suspect. A small group of protesters stood outside the hotel with signs, including large letters that spelled out "Racist."
Bannon left his White House post in August after a turbulent seven months. He immediately returned to Breitbart News, which he led before joining Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
During a three-minute speech, Bannon said he left the White House because Trump "needed a wingman to go against the Republican establishment."
"It's not the Democrats, we'll get to them and we'll beat them, like we beat Hillary Clinton," Bannon said. "But the first thing you've got to get through is a corrupt and incompetent Republican establishment," he told the crowd to cheers.
Republicans in Congress have failed to support Trump's "populist, nationalist, conservative" message and ideas, Bannon said.
"They're not conservatives. They're liberals, and that is what we've got to fight every day," he said.
Despite his continuing support for the president, Bannon is heading to Alabama to campaign against the Trump-backed candidate in that state's Republican Senate primary. He is scheduled to speak Monday at a rally for former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, ahead of the Tuesday runoff.
Trump is backing the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat that belonged to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Bannon said opponents of Moore have waged "politics of personal destruction. They're out to destroy him. Do you know why? Because they cannot take the righteousness the people like Judge Moore represent."
Some at the rally wore "Support President Trump" T-shirts. Among them was Edith Herd, 61, who said she remains unwavering in her support of the president.
"He has the nation at heart," Herd said. "He's not a perfect man. There are things in his past I don't agree with. But we give everybody second chances. Give him a chance to do what he said he was going to do."
Bannon received an award from the group earlier in the day, but the presentation was closed to media.
Schlafly, of suburban St. Louis, was the driving force behind defeat of the pro-feminist Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Her endorsement of Trump several months before her death was part of the internal organizational strife that led Phyllis Schlafly Eagles to break away from Eagle Forum. Some other members of the Eagle Forum board supported other Republican presidential candidates in 2016.