At the beginning of Alabama’s special election to choose a new occupant for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the prime objective for the three viable Republican candidates was simple: compete in swearing absolute fealty to Donald J. Trump. (This is Alabama, after all, where the president won last November by nearly 30 points.) And they did so with — literally — religious fervor.
Here’s how Luther Strange, the interim appointee filling the seat at the moment, put it in a recent candidate forum:
President Trump is the greatest thing that’s happened to this country … I consider it a Biblical miracle that he’s there.
Judge Roy Moore, generally regarded as America’s favorite theocrat, won’t be outdone in discerning the divine will in right-wing political activities, as he noted in an interview:
God puts people in positions in positions he wants … I believe he sent Donald Trump in there to do what Donald Trump can do.
And the third leading candidate, Mo Brooks, came to Trump’s defense from a slightly different religio-political angle, promising to filibuster the Senate by reading the King James Bible until the heathens agree to fund the president’s sacred Border Wall.
Brooks had a particularly urgent need to identify with Trump, since he said some regrettable things about the mogul’s moral fiber back when he was supporting Ted Cruz, prior to Alabama’s primary, which Trump won handily. A Mitch McConnell super-PAC backing Strange has run ads reminding Alabamians of the shocking scandal of it all:
Playing catch-up with the Trump movement, Brooks has managed to snag endorsements from right-wing leading lights like Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Ann Coulter. The national Students for Trump organization has also backed him.
But the “Trump Primary” in Alabama — which takes place on August 15, with a runoff vote in late September — has taken some odd turns. Most obviously, the president’s richly expressed grievances with his attorney general has caused some issues with the GOP contest to choose his successor.
Brooks, Moore, and Strange have all vowed solidarity with Jeff Sessions, while waxing optimistic about the Trump-Sessions relationship being strong enough to survive any sticks-and-stones tensions. Strange managed to blame the feud — which, of course, the president has repeatedly confirmed on Twitter — on the news media. Brooks came up with an imaginative gambit, offering to quit the race if Sessions resigned and returned to Alabama. It wasn’t going to happen, and wouldn’t work without a write-in campaign, but Brooks got loyalty points with Sessions fans.
Even more recently, Trump’s displeasure with the Senate GOP effort to repeal and/or replace Obamacare has caused some new issues for Alabama Republicans. Strange, who is serving in the Senate on a fill-in basis, has no choice but to stick with Mitch McConnell, whose super-PAC is projected to spend $6 million to $8 million on the Alabama race before it’s all done. Brooks has leaped onto Trump’s criticism of McConnell’s failure to kill the legislative veto, which Strange has defended. Roy Moore has joined Brooks in saying he would not vote for McConnell as GOP leader next year, and has further attacked the entire “Washington Establishment” of the GOP as an obstacle to Trump’s agenda.
It’s all kind of dizzying.
Public polling on the Alabama race has been sparse, though two publicly released surveys (one from Cygnal and the other from Raycom News Network) in July showed Strange running first, with Moore a close second, and Brooks well behind but not out of it. Given the state’s majority requirement for nominations, a runoff is almost certain. Moore’s reputation for light fundraising and underperformance in nonjudicial races (he’s lost two gubernatorial races) makes a runoff with him a likely winning proposition. You can expect Team Brooks to go crazy down the stretch with attacks on Strange, the disgraced former governor who appointed him (Robert Bentley), and McConnell. It’s actually appropriate that a trio of Trump fans are fighting each other in this race. Any of them would accordingly fit right into the fratricidal Trump circle in Washington.