In Alabama, a special Senate primary runoff election was held last week due to the vacancy of the seat formerly occupied by Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The primary race produced a frenzy of activity in the Republican Party as different factions competed to support one of two GOP runoff candidates: Luther Strange or Judge Roy Moore.
Until Sessions left his seat, Strange was Alabama’s state attorney general, who former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley had appointed to fill Sessions’ position earlier this year. It should be noted that a few months prior to that, Strange had requested state lawmakers to suspend their impeachment investigation into Bentley over Bentley’s affair with his aide Rebekah Mason, with Strange claiming that as attorney general, he was conducting his own inquiry into the matter. (Bentley ended up resigning on Aril 10 after pleading guilty to two counts of campaign finance law violations related to the scandal — he’s now considered something of a pariah in Alabama.)
Meanwhile, Roy Moore is a controversial former Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court.
The Alabama race is incredibly important, given that the federal Senate is currently split between Democrats and Republicans 47 to 52, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — ostensibly an Independent, despite his earlier run for president as a Democrat — voting with the Democrats 95 percent of the time.
Even though Republicans hold a bare sliver of a majority, one big issue is that at least three Republican senators — John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are considered “RiNOs” — Republicans in Name Only — meaning that on important issues such as the repeal of Obamacare, they’ve sided with Democrats in the past (and this includes last week, when McCain announced that he would once again vote against the revoking of Obamacare in its latest iteration, the Graham-Cassidy repeal).
Therefore, for Republicans, every seat they can add to their current total means being able to solidify a reliable majority that could allow them to ultimately enact President Trump’s agenda.
The Alabama race should also be seen as a harbinger of next year’s midterm elections, which will determine whether Republicans hold onto control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Issues such as how Republican senators hew to President Trump’s agenda may very well be what determines whether the GOP can retain its electoral majority in Congress.
Judge Roy Moore served in Vietnam and is a trained martial artist and boxer. He sometimes commuted to his former job on horseback. But interestingly, he’d been suspended from the judicial bench twice for disobeying orders — once for not removing a monument to the Ten Commandments from the state’s Judicial Building and a second time for upholding a ban on gay marriage that had previously been overturned.
Moore made no bones about wanting to take on globalist Republican elites of the type that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan represented and protected.
For many Alabama voters, Moore’s type of rebellious, fighting spirit is exactly what they want to see in a politician, as opposed to the smug authoritarianism of former state Attorney General Strange, who was regarded as toeing the establishment line with his political positions.
Strange had disparaged Moore’s supporters as “looking like the unemployment line at the White House” — a choice of words that went over like a lead balloon with voters in Alabama, where unemployment is higher than the national average. Strange also worked in the past as a lobbyist for corporations aiming to move thousands of Alabama jobs out of the country to Mexico and Central America.
But because some members of the Republican old guard were worried about Moore’s potential to “upset the establishment apple cart” in the Senate — potentially motivating some GOP senators to retire in 2018 — party stalwarts had taken to stubbornly supporting Strange. Until Tuesday, this included President Trump, who recorded a “robocall” for Strange, yet kept from mentioning the former attorney general’s name in it.
But while Trump and even Vice President Pence may have offered their nominal support to Strange, many other prominent Republican figures — including members of Trump’s own cabinet — threw their weight behind Moore. This included former presidential candidate and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, former Trump deputy assistant Dr. Sebastian Gorka and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Specifically, Palin said of the independent-minded judge, “A vote for Judge Moore isn’t a vote against the president. It’s a vote for the people’s agenda that elected the president… We voted to put America first. Not the political elite that’s ignored us for decades. We voted for a big beautiful wall, not for another immigration amnesty deal.”
Furthermore, she referred to Strange as a government “swamp creature” who wanted to help the Washington establishment “hijack” the original Trump nationalist economic agenda and “steal the victory we worked so long and hard for.” “[MAGA] isn’t a campaign; it’s a movement,” pronounced Palin. “Our movement isn’t over, and it’s not slowing down. It’s roaring and rumbling across the country.”
The Women Vote Trump female-run political action committee (PAC) also described Moore as the “only candidate” who it believed would firmly oppose highly unpopular Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “At a time when Mitch McConnell and the D.C. swamp have been obstructionists to the President’s agenda, this election is about who’s going to stand up to Mitch McConnell. There’s only one candidate who will do that — Judge Roy Moore.”
Other prominent Republicans supporting Moore included former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Fox News anchor Sean Hannity and former Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, the latter of whom gave a fiery speech from a barn outside Mobile, Alabama September 25 defending Moore and pressing voters “to show what you think of the elite who are running our country.”
On Tuesday, September 26, Moore won the primary runoff against Strange despite Strange outspending Moore by as much as 10 to one in the runoff (some estimated Strange’s campaign may have spent as much as $30 million of GOP establishment money).
This decisive victory, which had been predicted by many analysts for over a week, sent a clear message to the White House and to GOP Congressional leaders that voters are more behind the Bannon-driven nationalist economic platform that Trump espoused on the campaign trail last year than they necessarily are behind Trump himself.
For a certain number of GOP senators and Congresspeople, this was a warning that, no matter how much money the old-guard establishment dumps into a race from the outside and no matter how many negative attack ads are run, the will of voters cannot easily be subverted.
It now appears certain that a good number of GOP establishment figures will face primary challenges from candidates backed by Bannon, Gorka, Palin and other populist cheerleaders. Such figures are likely to include Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Senator Dean Heller of Nevada and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
As for President Trump, he was said to be angered by Republicans who had told him to support the man who ultimately turned out to be a losing candidate. Trump never likes to be on the losing side, and establishment advisors such Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner undoubtedly heard from the president after the results in this runoff election were announced.
Trump swiftly called Moore to congratulate him and publicly tweeted his support for the judge in the upcoming general election on December 12, when Moore will take on Democrat Douglas Jones.
Victories like Moore’s will put intense pressure on establishment GOP’s like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to actually enact part of the Trump populist agenda to some degree — whether it’s tax reform, Obamacare repeal and/or other measures. A lack of progress on these issues would likely be looked at as the final nail in their coffin that would see their final ousting — and those of their allies — from Congress.