You’d figure that candidates running for the United States Senate would have a lot of present and future challenges to talk about at this particularly fraught moment of American history. But in Alabama, the Heart of Dixie where Old Times There Are Not Forgotten, the high-profile Republican senatorial runoff has a wayback machine feel to it. And that’s bad news for former Senator Jeff Sessions, who is trying to win back the seat he incautiously gave up in 2017 for a brief gig as Donald Trump’s attorney general — a seat subsequently won by highly endangered Democrat Doug Jones in a special election.
The chief rap on Sessions in Trump–happy Alabama Republican circles, of course, is that he did what any other self-respecting lawyer would do in an investigation involving his own self: he recused himself from his department’s investigation of links between certain vodka drinkers and the Trump ’16 campaign in which he was a major figure. This incensed Trump, who expected the attorney general to protect him. So POTUS publicly and privately complained about Sessions’s perfidy until Trump finally pushed him out the door in November of 2018.
Never one to let go of a grudge, Trump endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville against Sessions when the two men finished first and second in the GOP primary and qualified for a runoff. And for much of the contest (which was extended when Governor Kay Ivey postponed the runoff until July 14), Sessions’s alleged disloyalty to Trump has been in the air perpetually.
He might have overcome those memories given the distractions of, well, current life in the spring of 2020; one runoff poll showed him even with Tubs (as he was nicknamed in his coaching days), and another showed him behind by 12 points. Sessions managed to return to the signature issue on which he had originally bonded with Trump back in the days when Stephen Miller was his gift to the 2016 campaign, calling for a complete suspension of job-based immigration during the pandemic (even before POTUS got there).
But the recent pivot in Trumpworld to the bizarre revisionist history of Obamagate, the theory by which Barack Obama and his associates supposedly plotted to invent a Russian collusion scandal that haunted his poor innocent successor from the beginning of his tenure, was a stroke of very bad luck for Jeff Sessions.
Now all good MAGA folk are again focused on those terrible days when the plot to smear and then impeach Trump was hatched and sprung — and Jeff Sessions, on whom the president totally depended, stood aside and let slip the hounds of political war.
Last week, Sessions penned a highly defensive “open letter to the people of Alabama” that made his recusal and the unpleasantness over it a brief moment of discord in his long and affectionate partnership in reactionary politics with Donald Trump. Tuberville pounced gleefully with a response:
Three years ago this week, one of the biggest hoaxes in American history began as Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the Democrats’ Russia witch hunt, and the man most responsible for birthing that national nightmare was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is now running to reclaim his former Senate seat.
Throughout this campaign, Sessions has claimed that nameless, faceless Justice Department bureaucrats demanded that (he) recuse himself from the investigation, and he had no other choice than stepping down.
So, without even a courtesy call to the man who appointed him, Sessions abandoned his president and fed him to the wolves, and he almost brought down the entire Trump presidency in the process.
Tubs goes on in that vein for some time before citing his coaching career as proof he knows what it takes to commit to the “Trump team.” I’m sure if the president read it, he enjoyed it as an example of the sycophancy Sessions lacked at the crucial moment.
The same day Tubs bent the knee to POTUS, an independent poll from the well-regarded Cygnal firm showed the old coach leading the former senator by a 55 to 32 margin, the largest anyone has enjoyed in the race. Yes, the runoff isn’t until July 14, but so long as Alabama Republicans continue to be bombarded by right-wing media and the president himself with recriminations about Obamagate and Mueller and the “witch hunt,” it’s hard to imagine Sessions coming back to win. In the meantime, I would imagine Doug Jones is getting a big kick out of their mutual determination to show their loyalty is to someone in Washington, D.C., rather than Alabama.