What is it about Alabama Republicans?
GOP Senator Richard Shelby’s recently announced retirement created a rare opportunity for ambitious right-wing pols in a very red state, particularly given the likely Republican tilt of the 2022 midterms. But this being Alabama, high jinks are already ensuing as one potential candidate, secretary of State John Merrill, self-destructed this past week, while another, Representative Mo Brooks, let his freak flag fly. It’s the sort of behavior we’ve come to expect from the dominant party in the Heart of Dixie.
This is the state GOP that gave the world “Luv Guv” Robert Bentley, the libidinous old Baptist deacon who held on to office grimly after being caught in a lurid sex scandal involving a top aide before finally resigning in 2017 as part of a plea deal stemming from charges of personal misuse of campaign funds. As Politico explained at the time, Bentley was comically incompetent in his philandering:
Friday’s 112-page report plus exhibits, commissioned by the Judiciary Committee of the state House of Representatives, was so chock full of gems it practically overwhelmed the state’s newspaper sites and political blogs, which brimmed with examples of the technologically inept governor’s forgetting to use his “Rebekah phone” instead of his government-issue device and more than once sending his wife, Dianne, text messages filigreed with rose emojis saying, “I love you, Rebekah.” There were even ready-for-prime-time memes: “Bless our hearts. And other parts.”
One Alabama Republican pol who apparently didn’t learn from Bentley’s experience was Merrill, who on the very day of his planned announcement of a 2022 campaign for the U.S. Senate was caught very publicly lying about an affair. His one-time paramour played to reporters a tape of her lurid phone conversations with the very married and very conservative Christian secretary of State — then backed up her story with some nasty text messages, right after Merrill had denied everything and denounced her as a stalker. He’s not running for the Senate after all.
Now another Republican who is lurid in a different way has snagged the coveted Donald Trump endorsement for the 2022 Senate race: Representative Mo Brooks. The fiery North Alabama pol was the opening speaker at the infamous January 6 insurrectionary rally near the White House, which he keynoted with the words: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Brooks had earlier provided the pretext for the whole nightmare by launching a challenge to Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, making him the grand old man of the attempted election coup.
Brooks and Trump are the living links to the equally wild 2017 U.S. Senate special election in Alabama for the open seat created when Jeff Sessions made the major mistake of becoming Trump’s attorney general. Brooks got caught in the crossfire between Trump’s endorsed candidate, Luther Strange (who had been appointed to the seat by Bentley as part of what many suspected was a corrupt deal), and the aging theocrat and twice-suspended Judge Roy Moore, who eventually won the nomination. Moore then managed to lose to Democrat Doug Jones; the sanctimonious Republican, who appeared to have made a habit of cruising the Gadsden Mall in search of young female companionship, was hit by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct during the campaign.
After all that madness, Alabama returned to semi-normal in 2020 with Jones losing his Senate seat to former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, who had thwarted a comeback effort by Sessions, as Trump finally got a win.
With Merrill now sorting through the ashes of his career, and several other statewide elected officials waiting to see if Governor Kay Ivey (who ascended to the position when Bentley resigned) is running for reelection, you have to figure Brooks is the current front-runner for Shelby’s Senate seat based on name ID alone. Another announced candidate is self-funder Lynda Blanchard, the former U.S. ambassador to Slovenia in the administration of you-know-who (hint: His wife is from that country):
In a video announcing her candidacy, released Thursday, Blanchard describes herself as a Christian, a business-builder, mother of eight children and a “proud member of the MAGA movement …”
[S]ecuring U.S. borders, lowering taxes, protecting religious freedoms, Second Amendment gun rights, abortion restrictions, and “the liberty to speak freely without the threat of being ‘canceled’ are among the issues she said will serve as the foundation of her campaign.”
Pretty original, eh? In Alabama, Republicans are divided between Trump’s favorites and those who want to prove they are far Trumpier than Trump’s favorites.
There is one more likely GOP Senate candidate who has yet to get into the More MAGA Than Thou competition: former Shelby chief of staff and president of the Business Council of Alabama, Katie Boyd Britt. She may be too normal for Alabama Republicans, though. Meanwhile, Republican extremism and the well-established possibility that GOP candidates will suddenly implode in a thunderclap of hormones and hypocrisy could tempt a significant Democratic bid, though the strongest potential candidate, Representative Terri Sewell, recently declined to make the run. A Doug Jones comeback attempt is always a possibility. He’s proven he knows how to exploit Alabama Republican descents into the fever swamps of sex and ideology.