Republican congressman Mo Brooks’s aspirations for higher office have been tied inextricably to his tumultuous relationship with Donald Trump. In 2017, in a special election created by Jeff Sessions’s very bad decision to leave a safe U.S. Senate seat in Alabama to become Trump’s attorney general (and then scapegoat and punching bag), Brooks was a candidate for a step up to the Senate. But he was dogged by negative comments he had made regarding the soon-to-be 45th president as a supporter of Ted Cruz in 2016. Trump endorsed Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat after Sessions’s election exit. Brooks wound up losing the primary, finishing a poor third behind Big Luther and the venerable theocrat Judge Roy Moore. Brooks probably didn’t help his standing with Trump by endorsing Moore in the runoff, which the judge won en route to a loss against Democrat Doug Jones in the general election.
Since then, Brooks has tried hard to be the Trumpiest politician in his very red state. Most famously, he was the point man in Congress for Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results via challenges to Biden electoral-vote certifications under the Electoral Count Act of 1887. And he put an exclamation point on his support for Trump’s “stolen election” hoax on January 6, 2021, when he spoke with a characteristic lack of restraint at Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally (saying it was time for “kicking ass”) before heading over to the Capitol to lead the unsuccessful charge to deny Biden the presidency. For a while, it even looked as if Brooks had exposed himself to civil or criminal liability for his participation in the attempted election coup — until a federal judge declared that his January 6 remarks were constitutionally protected free speech.
So when Brooks leaped into the 2022 race to succeed retiring senator Richard Shelby last spring, Trump endorsed him. I mean, who else was he going to back? Surely not Brooks’s chief rival early on, former Shelby chief of staff and business lobbyist Katie Britt, who embodied the Republican Establishment and maybe even the Swamp.
Brooks led Britt in early polls. But in the ensuing months, Brooks seems to have lost his mojo, while acquiring a second dangerous rival, Mike Durant, a wealthy war hero (he was the sole survivor of the Mogadishu helicopter crashes at the center of the book and movie Black Hawk Down). As Brooks struggled to keep up with Britt and Durant in fundraising and buzz, the word began to seep out of MAGA-land that Trump was unhappy with his candidate. Still, it must have come as a shock to Brooks when the former president (who had heard praise for Britt and her football-player husband from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick) met with Britt at Mar-a-Lago last month and reportedly told her he would find some way to say nice things about her.
Even more recently, Brooks has been hit with dual hammerblows. First, a poll from McLaughlin & Associates (one of Trump’s favorite polling outfits) showed Brooks running a distant third, with 18 percent, trailing both Durant (33 percent) and Britt (32 percent). Very soon thereafter, Trump told the Washington Examiner that he was considering a withdrawal of his endorsement of Brooks on the grounds that this avid participant in the January 6 festivities had “changed.” The evidence: Brooks told a crowd in October that it was time to move on from what happened in 2020. “If it meant what he sounded like, I would have no problem changing [my endorsement]. Because when you endorse somebody, you endorse somebody based on principle,” Trump said. “If he changed that principle, I would have no problem doing that.”
Brooks wasted no time putting up a sycophantic ad reminding viewers (and presumably Trump) of his loyalty to the cause on January 6 and labeling Britt “Mitch McConnell’s candidate” and a RINO. The Brooks campaign’s co-chairman also took to the airwaves to identify his candidate with Trump’s 2020 claims:
“That election was stolen, and Joe Biden, he is an illegitimate President,” [Stan McDonald] protested. “Now, that is exactly the logical conclusion that both President Trump and Mo Brooks share.”
McDonald then said that Brooks was the only candidate who will say publicly the election was stolen.
It’s unclear whether this renewed pledge of allegiance to Trump’s views on 2020 can save Brooks from being dumped by Trump. He has until May 24, the primary-election date, to turn his battered and sinking campaign around. And even if he manages to overtake Britt or Durant, his fundraising struggles would handicap him in a runoff campaign (Alabama requires a majority vote for party nominations and will hold a runoff election on June 21 if no one wins a majority) against either of his rivals. Brooks bet big on Trump in this contest after his dismal performance in 2017. But he is learning that his hero has little sympathy for “losers.”
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