President Trump apparently missed the lesson delivered to him by Alabama Republican voters on Tuesday when they decisively picked grassroots conservative champion Roy Moore over establishment-backed and Trump-endorsed Luther Strange in the primary runoff election.
Trump voters support the Trump agenda, not the Trump personality. The president seems to think otherwise.
Late Saturday, President Trump sent out this tweet:
In analyzing the Alabama Primary race,FAKE NEWS always fails to mention that the candidate I endorsed went up MANY points after endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Not exactly, Mr. President.
President Trump endorsed Strange on August 8, one week before the August 15 GOP primary for the special election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) in the United States Senate. Under Alabama election laws, the nomination would go to any candidate who received a majority of the votes in that primary election.
Since none did, the top two vote-getters on August 15, Roy Moore and Strange, advanced to the September 26 runoff election, where Moore crushed Strange by 54.6 percent to 45.4 percent, a 9.2 point margin.
What impact did Trump’s August 8 endorsement of Strange have on voting behavior among Alabama’s Republican primary voters?
Not any that helped Strange, as it turns out.
An RRH Poll of likely voters in the August 15 Alabama Republican Senate primary conducted between July 31 and August 3 gave Moore a two point lead over Strange, 31 percent to 29 percent, with Mo Brooks in third with 18 percent.
On election night August 15, a week after President Trump’s endorsement of Strange, and two weeks after the RRH Poll showing Moore with a two point lead, the results showed Moore performing better after the President’s endorsement of Strange.
Moore received 38.9 percent of the vote to finish in first place while Strange received 32.8 percent to finish in second place, a margin of 6.2 points for Moore, which was 4.2 points higher than the two point lead he had in the RRH Poll taken shortly before the president’s endorsement of Strange.
Rep. Brooks finished in third place and was therefore out of the running for the September 26 runoff election.
And there was more in play in Alabama than just President Trump’s endorsement.
To be precise, there was a huge amount of money behind Strange, and very little behind Moore.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC associated with Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), other groups supporting Strange, and the Strange campaign spent an estimated $30 million to elect Strange. In contrast, Moore and groups supporting him spent an estimated $2 million.
Despite a 15-to-1 financial advantage and the president’s endorsement, Strange just couldn’t close the gap.
The president’s advisers persuaded him to expend his political capital by going down to Hunstville, Alabama for a rally with Strange on September 23, just four days before the runoff election.
Four separate polls conducted of Alabama Republican voters in the week before President Trump’s September 23 rally with Strange in Huntsville showed that Moore had a lead that ranged between six percent and eight percent.
A Gravis Marketing Poll conducted between September 21 and September 22 showed Moore with an eight point lead over Strange, 48 percent to 40 percent.
A Fox 10/Strategy Research Poll conducted on September 20 also showed Moore with an eight point lead over Strange, 54 percent to 46 percent.
A WBRC-TV Strategy Research Poll conducted on September 18 showed Moore with a six point lead over Strange, 53 percent to 47 percent.
A JMC Analytics Poll conducted between September 16 and September 17 showed Moore with an eight point lead over Strange, 50 percent to 42 percent.
As it turns out, the president’s visit to Alabama on September 23 may have had the effect of slightly increasing actual voter support for Moore by 1.2 points to 3.2 points, as the final margin of victory for Moore on election day, September 26, was 9.2 points.