There is a temptation to view the results of Tuesday’s primary (or pre-primary) race in Alabama to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate through the usual lens of establishment vs. outsider. But while most of the attention has gone to the two candidates who survived – one conservative, the other supported by the establishment – the more important part of the story revolves around the man who did not make it.
The Atlantic nailed it with their headline: The Alabama Senate Race Gets Moore Strange. Indeed, when the dust settled in the three-way race, the two men who advanced on to a head-to-head matchup in September are Roy Moore, the rebellious judge twice removed from the bench, and Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), who was appointed to replace Sessions in February. Moore, who finished with 39% of the vote, attracted grassroots conservative support, while Strange, who came in at 33%, received the backing of both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
But it is the third-place candidate who is worthy of note, for what he said about the President and how voters in Alabama reacted. Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) is a genuine conservative boasting the support of folks like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter. He has been mostly a staunch defender of Trump since he became president. But it was a statement he made during the presidential campaign which haunted him in this primary race and likely led the president to endorse the establishment candidate:
Donald Trump is an adulterer, I don’t support people who support adultery and I don’t trust people who are serial adulterers, as Donald Trump has been and bragged about in writing…
Regardless of the merits of that statement, the fact that this serious, experienced, and well-spoken conservative finished a distant third in a bright red state should help answer the question constantly being posed by the media: do Trump voters still support the president? The answer from Alabama, in rejecting a man who once attacked Trump, was a resounding yes.
GOP officeholders may look at Trump’s low approval numbers and presume that his base must be eroding; that even Trump voters must have doubts, or that Trump has disappointed the people who took the leap and voted for the most disruptive candidate of their lifetimes. They consider following in the footsteps of Trump critic Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and ask themselves whether it might be smart to distance themselves from this president. It certainly doesn’t seem so in Alabama.
President Trump’s current approval numbers are almost the same as on Election Day, yet Trump was still elected president. Many of those Trump voters reside in Alabama, and they haven’t forgotten what Mo Brooks said last year. For politicians and the media, the race in Alabama should serve as a stark warning that the voters have far from given up on their president.
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