The other shoe has dropped. On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted, “I will be in Huntsville, Alabama on Saturday night to support Luther Strange for Senate. ‘Big Luther’ is a great guy who gets things done!” This is surprising, because (a) Strange’s opponent, Judge Roy Moore, is a darling of Trump’s base, and more importantly, (b) the polls have been showing Strange far behind for the Sept 26 Republican runoff election to fill the senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who became attorney general. Trump hates losing, so he likes to back “winners.”
In the original primary, Trump stayed out, and it looked like Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus would win. That pleased Trump’s base. Brooks boasted that he was the “Trump candidate,” and bragged about being close to Trump. The primary looked like a done deal. Then, Trump struck.
In a blow to Strange, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, endorsed Moore on Saturday. Brooks finished third in the initial round of voting in August, with just under 20 percent of the vote.
The move was a shock for two reasons: (1) Mitch McConnell has sent staffers to the state, and has pumped $7 million in ads for Strange, with another million due this week alone—and Trump is usually on the opposite side of McConnell, and (2) Strange has only supported Trump’s agenda 91% of the time. That sounds like a high number, but 33 GOP senators have a higher number. Ninety-one percent is the same level as Ben Sasse—and Jeff Flake!
In fact, Trump is also siding with McConnell against former Trump chief strategist and Breitbart Executive Chairman Steve Bannon. Bannon wants Moore to win to begin to “drain the swamp” of “RINO” senators.
Bannon has described the Alabama race as the initial front in a midterm war aimed at undermining McConnell.
A Moore win, Bannon has argued, could open the floodgates for conservative insurgents in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee. The addition of truculent conservatives backed by Bannon to the Senate could also make it more difficult for McConnell to corral his conference. . .Bannon has described the Alabama race as the initial front in a midterm war aimed at undermining McConnell.
“The establishment should be worried,” said Andrew Surabian, who worked for Bannon in the White House and is a senior adviser to Great America Alliance. “Republican voters rejected all of their preferred candidates in the 2016 presidential primary, they’re in the midst of rejecting their golden boy in Alabama and I’m confident they will reject their never-Trump stalking horses running in 2018.”
Trump’s change of heart may actually be part of the “pivot” that people have been talking about. In the past two weeks, Trump has made surprising deals with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. To show how sharp the U-Turn has been, we have emails…
Alabama candidate Roy Moore was allowed to use Trump’s national fundraising email list—until just before Trump announced his support for Strange last Saturday. Moore sent three emails on 8/18, two on 8/22, three on 8/23, two on 8/30, one on 9/1, two on 9/7, one on 9/8, and one on 9/9. Then, silence.
Bannon is not just anxious to defeat ‘RINOs.” He thinks the whole “movement” is in danger.
Bannon made it clear in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes” exactly what he thinks of McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
“The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election. That’s a brutal fact we have to face,” he said, calling out McConnell and Ryan by name and saying they “do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic nationalist agenda to be implemented.”
FiveThirtyEight described each candidate’s supporters.
The candidates have somewhat distinct constituencies, as I noted last week. Moore’s coalition of evangelical Christians represents a large chunk of the likely primary electorate. It’s almost as large as the 85 percent of likely primary voters who approve of the job Trump is doing — Strange is running his strongest among that group.
Here’s a robocall Trump made for Strange ahead of the first primary:
Hi, this is President Donald Trump, and I love the people of Alabama and I hope you go out and vote for Luther Strange for Senate. It is so important that you do. We ‘ve fulfilled so many of our promises everything we’ve wanted to do we’re doing. Unemployment is at a record low, jobs are flowing back into the country, we have a great Supreme Court Judge in Justice Gorsuch, we are doing things a lot of people said were impossible, but I need Luther to help us out. So tomorrow go to the polls it’s August 15th Tuesday go to those polls and vote for Luther Strange. He is helping me in the Senate and is going to get the tax cuts for us. He’s doing a lot of things for the people of Alabama and for the people of The United States. Thank you very much and go vote for Luther Strange.
Other conservatives prefer Moore, according to RealClearPolitics, and they are upset by Trump’s abandoning them.
Sam Givhan, chairman of the Madison County GOP and a senior vice chairman of the state party, described “a lot of disappointment here in North Alabama” among party activists and Trump supporters, who aired their concerns Wednesday on local talk radio and social media.
“It looks like there’s some significant frustration with the president over this,” Givhan said.
For Matt Murphy, a conservative radio host in Alabama, the president’s endorsement suggested Trump “has no clue who Luther is ,” Murphy tweeted. “Too bad, really. Mitch [McConnell] running the show??”. . .
Among those supporters are some of the president’s most ardent boosters on the political right. Brooks has been endorsed by Fox News anchor and Trump-whisperer Sean Hannity, whom Brooks knows personally from a stopover by Hannity in Alabama during the early ’90s.
And this is not just about philosophy. There’s the matter of the skeleton in Strange’s closet:
Strange was the state attorney general when he was appointed to replace Sessions in February by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned shortly afterwards and pleaded guilty to using government funds to conduct and cover up an extramarital affair, a misdemeanor. Before Bentley stepped down, the Alabama House, controlled by Republicans, had taken up impeachment proceedings against him but stopped when Strange began an investigation into the scandal and asked that the impeachment proceedings be suspended. Critics claimed Strange never launched an investigation, so Bentley’s decision to appoint him to the Senate has been tainted as a quid pro quo ever since.
So where do things stand now? Moore has been leading Strange by double digits, but the support of Trump, McConnell, and millions of dollars has turned it into a real race, according to the Washington Examiner.
Sen. Luther Strange trailed former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, both Republicans, by 1 percentage point in a closely watched special Senate election in Alabama.
The upstart Moore led Strange, appointed when Jeff Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general, 41 percent to 40 percent. The special election is Sept. 26.
“In just over a month’s time, the gap between Moore and Strange has shrunk, from 6.1 points (Moore’s margin over Strange in the August 15th primary election) to a virtual dead heat,” van Lohuizen said in a memo detailing the poll’s findings.
There is a caveat, however: “consider the source.” The Examiner also notes, “The survey was produced by Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen Sept. 9-10 for Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.”
Here’s another consideration, if you care about what gamblers think. The site, PredictIt, is selling “shares” of the race. In the category of, “Who’ll win the AL Senate primary?” Moore is given an 82% probability of winning. And in the “Who will win the AL senate special election?” category, Moore is given a 77% probability of winning.
So if you think the Trump-McConnell-Money team can save Strange, now is the time to put down your money.