2020 elections

Will Trump Crush Jeff Sessions’s Senate Comeback?

Trump and Sessions in happier days. Photo: Andrtew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With just a day to go before the deadline to enter Alabama’s 2020 Republican primaries, former attorney general Jeff Sessions has reportedly decided for certain to seek the Senate seat he held for two decades before joining Donald Trump’s cabinet. Sessions subsequently resigned as AG less than a year later in the wake of his boss’ extremely explicit fury at the Alabaman for failing to block and tackle the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and certain vodka-drinkers to the east of Ukraine. Here was one of many angry Trump tweets on the subject, five months before Sessions finally gratified the boss’ desire that he quit:

Perhaps anticipating a comeback, Sessions has turned the other cheek in response to Trump’s bullying, indicating recently that he’s all in on Keeping America Great in 2020 because POTUS was “relentlessly and actually honoring the promises he made to the American people.” But clearly Sessions’s rivals down in Alabama are hoping Trump is still characteristically holding a grudge and will actively oppose his former ally in a state he won by 27 points in 2016. The top fundraiser in the campaign, congressman Bradley Byrne, and the top candidate in early polls, Tommy Tuberville, are both making that clear even before Sessions’s formal announcement, as Yellowhammer News reports:

On Wednesday evening, Byrne told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “From the Mueller investigation to this impeachment sham, President Trump has been under constant attack. I won’t sit back and watch them destroy our country. Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won’t run away and hide from the fight.”

Tuberville previously told Fox Business’ Stuart Varney, “He (Sessions) had a chance to help President Trump, and he failed him once. We don’t need him to fail him again.”

Now it’s true that Trump was zero for three in endorsements of candidates to succeed Sessions in the 2017 special election for this same seat, vocally backing appointed senator Luther Strange in the primary and runoff and then supporting GOP nominee Roy Moore in the general election. But Strange had a lot of issues — mostly due to his relationship with disgraced Alabama governor Robert Bentley, who appointed him to the seat — and Moore was a wild-ass theocrat dismissed from judicial posts twice even before he was alleged to have stalked malls looking for young female companionship. And the one constant throughout the special election campaign was that all the Republicans competed in slavish sycophancy toward the White House.

During the period just prior to Sessions’s resignation as AG, most Alabama Republican leaders went out of their way to express solidarity with Trump as opposed to the man elected to the Senate from their state four times, as I noted at the time:

Trump is benefitting in places like Alabama from a conservative GOP ascendancy built on racial resentments, pro-business boosterism, and Christian right activism long before the mogul ran for office–built by pols, as it happens, much like Jeff Sessions. But it remains a great irony of contemporary politics that a coastal elitist like Trump commands a vast right-wing-populist army that is willing to frag its past leaders at the drop of a tweet.

Sessions does maintain some serious residual support among old-school conservatives nationally, who have some evidence that the 72-year-old ideological warhorse also has residual affection back home, as Politico reports:

The Club for Growth released a poll Wednesday conducted by the firm WPA Intelligence that showed Sessions with a 71 percent favorable rating among Republican primary voters, compared to just 20 percent who viewed him unfavorably. Sessions led the primary field with 36 percent support among GOP voters. Tuberville was second with 23 percent, while Byrne and Moore were tied with 11 percent each. The poll, which was conducted Oct. 29-31, surveyed 511 GOP primary voters with a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Alabama is a state that requires a majority vote for party nominations, so the game could well be a competition to see which rival can make a runoff with Sessions. It could be very significant that the campaign leading up to the March 3 primary (and likely March 31 runoff) will likely overlap with a presidential impeachment trial and a steadily more frenetic presidential campaign. The already intense tendency of Alabama Republicans to worship at the heathenish altar of Donald Trump could reach levels of idolatry not seen since biblical times. That’s probably not going to be good for Jeff Sessions, and without question, internecine Republican warfare will be very good for Democratic Senator Doug Jones, currently a long shot for reelection.

It is unclear when and exactly how Trump will weigh in on the Alabama Senate race, though he may be tempted to do so in conjunction with his planned visit to Tuscaloosa this weekend to attend the Alabama–LSU football game. It is likely the one time and place in Alabama this year when Trump will be completely overshadowed, so he may decide to make some news.

Will Trump Crush Jeff Sessions’s Senate Comeback?