President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Saturday night that he plans to campaign for Luther Strange in Alabama, a seriously risky move that has little to no upside for the struggling president.
“I will be in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday night to support Luther Strange for Senate,” Trump Tweeted. “‘Big Luther’ is a great guy who gets things done!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2017
Strange is significantly trailing conservative Judge Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in all recent legitimate polling. Only push polls from a PAC backing Strange, the Senate Leadership Fund which is associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have the race even remotely close. Every other poll shows double-digit leads for Moore.
The manner in which Strange obtained incumbency is in and of itself entirely problematic. When now Attorney General Jeff Sessions was appointed to lead President Trump’s Justice Department, then-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange into the U.S. Senate seat Sessions vacated. But, it turns out, Strange–as the attorney general of Alabama–had been investigating Bentley for a corruption and sex scandal that later claimed his job. Bentley was forced to resign over the scandal, and it turns out Strange had asked the state legislature to stall its impeachment proceedings of Bentley until after he was appointed into the Senate seat.
Strange is also someone who has been aligned against the president’s agenda when it comes to Senate rules, as he for months supported the 60-vote filibuster rule blocking most of the president’s agenda from passing in the U.S. Senate. He eventually demonstrated weakness by flip-flopping against it after signing a letter supporting it, and publicly campaigning for it.
If Strange is unable to close the gap and secure a win on Sept. 26 in the GOP primary runoff against Moore, Trump will be significantly embarrassed on a national scale—and no incumbent member will fear him, as he will have demonstrated he is incapable of winning elections for other politicians he campaigns for.
McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund has spent millions of dollars backing Strange in the primary’s first round. Since then, the group has been caught running illegitimate and deceptively edited advertisements falsely accusing Judge Moore of not supporting building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump’s endorsement of Strange came only in the first round of voting, and then he for the most part backed off supporting Strange until now. His Saturday evening tweet announcing the rally next Saturday in Huntsville represents the first time the president has said anything about the first endorsement he has made in weeks.
In the first round, Trump tweets and robo-calls for Strange helped Strange stave off an insurgency from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL). But they did not help Strange much other than getting Strange a ticket into the Sept. 26 runoff, as he finished the first round of voting in deep second place.
Moore, on the other hand, far outperformed his polling on primary day, earning nearly 40 percent of the vote in the first round. Since then, Moore has secured the endorsements of both Brooks and state Sen. Trip Pittman. Combined, Moore, Brooks, and Pittman got 65.5 percent of the vote in the first round—meaning Trump’s endorsement of Strange did little but limp him through to the next round. Strange only got 32.8 percent, with Trump’s endorsement and millions of dollars spent. It’s not clear a Trump rally in the second round would be enough to help Strange across the finish line, and shore up any more support than he already has.
Most polling data has Strange getting exactly the same amount of votes he got in the primary’s first round, around 33 percent. For instance, a JMC Analytics survey found Moore at 51 percent and Strange at 32 percent, and an Opinion Savvy poll found Moore at 50 percent while Strange was at 32 percent. An Emerson College Polling Society survey found Moore at 40 percent and Strange down at just 26 percent. Only polling firms financially aligned with McConnell and Strange and the official Republican Party have shown a closer race, but they even show Moore in the lead.
So, counting polling and endorsements from candidates who already ran, Moore is in the driver’s seat in Alabama. How Strange plans to flip what is essentially a 30-point race—65.5 percent between him and his top-two in-state endorsements to Strange’s low 30s in polling and election results in the first round—is anybody’s guess. A Trump rally is unlikely to turn the tide enough for Strange to flip this upside down, and crawl back into the race.
Trump’s risky move also pits him against his own base, most of whom have endorsed Moore. Sean Hannity, the Fox News anchor and nationally syndicated radio host, has endorsed Moore. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the father of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is supporting Moore, as is the staunchly pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). Most of Trump’s in-state supporters in Alabama are on Moore’s team, like state Rep. Ed Henry—who was a co-chair of Trump’s Alabama campaign.
Strange points to support from some folks who were never involved with the Trump campaign in Alabama but now claim to have been as somehow signaling his support for the president. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a key early Trump endorser, has endorsed Moore and plans to campaign for him in Alabama this coming week—and many top conservatives who back the president and his agenda are helping Moore, with one former White House official exposing Strange last week as a “swamp monster.” Ex-White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, has also privately told people he supports Moore and has met with and spoken with Moore several times.
Strange, meanwhile, is backed by the vehemently anti-Trump Karl Rove and the similarly anti-Trump U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Anti-Trump political operatives have flooded the state of Alabama trying to help Strange, including Rove’s ex-chief of staff Kristin Davison. White House officials have told Breitbart News that President Trump is deeply offended by Strange’s close ties to Rove, and is only helping him at this point to avoid being accused of abandoning Strange—even though Strange is expected at this point to lose badly.
The president is also campaigning against his own agenda. Earlier this year, the Trump White House officially endorsed the RAISE Act—an immigration bill from Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would cut legal immigration levels to the United States in half each year. Moore supports the legislation, but Strange refuses to at this time. Moore also supports the president on the Second Amendment and on education policy, as well as trade policy, something Strange refuses to do on each of those things and more.
Trump’s doubling down on Strange support comes after he flip-flopped on Afghanistan by promising a troop surge in the country after campaigning for years on a promise to end the war in Afghanistan, after he cut a deal with Democratic leadership in Congress on the debt ceiling and government spending, and after he has run crosswise with his supporters when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens. Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that his predecessor former President Barack Obama illegally implemented by executive action, bestowing without congressional authority legal status and work permits upon approximately 800,000 illegal alien youths. But, in doing so, Trump called for Congress to replace it with legislation–and is calling for something to pass Congress that he would presumably sign that would implement a legislatively approved legal status, or amnesty, for those illegal aliens and more. Trump said he does not believe in “amnesty,” but the definition of amnesty is exactly what he is pushing for. Trump’s move comes as he, during a dinner with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, reportedly came to an agreement on granting said amnesty to those illegal aliens. The White House has pushed back on the notion there is an agreement with the Democrats. In addition, late Saturday the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump plans to actually stay in the Paris Climate Accords despite promises earlier this year to back out. The Trump White House has vehemently pushed back on the report, but White House National Economic Council (NEC) director Gary Cohn–a Hillary Clinton supporter and former Goldman Sachs banker who somehow worked his way into the Trump White House–is supposed to speak about “climate change” before the United Nations in New York City next week.
Essentially, what the Alabama race provides for the first time since Trump began backtracking on a number of his core agenda items, is a chance for voters to affirm whether they believe in Trump or whether they believe in the agenda he campaigned on. If they believe in Trump’s agenda, Moore is the clear choice–but if they follow the cult of personality around Trump, then Strange is the clear choice. And for Trump’s personality to rescue the endangered Strange campaign, it will take a herculean effort on the part of the president.