Donald Trump went all out for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) in his Alabama primary. The president endorsed him, tweeted about him, promoted his Fox News appearances, dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to campaign for him, and even headlined a local rally for him.But Alabama Republicans ignored Trump’s advice. Roy Moore easily defeated Strange in their primary runoff yesterday, and soon after, some presidential tweets suddenly disappeared.
After enthusiastically endorsing an Alabama senator’s campaign for re-election, President Trump distanced himself on Tuesday night from the candidate’s loss in the most Trumpian way possible: He deleted his supportive tweets.
Hours after Senator Luther Strange, a Republican from Alabama, lost in Tuesday’s primary runoff, Mr. Trump excised at least three favorable Twitter posts, including one sent Tuesday morning. In that tweet, posted as the polls in Alabama opened, the president boasted that Mr. Strange “has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement.”
Like so much of the president’s rhetoric, that wasn’t true – and once the election results were available, the claim looked quite foolish.
But Trump’s embarrassment isn’t the only reason yesterday’s primary in Alabama matters. Indeed, GOP voters in the state have jolted Republican politics in a way that’s likely to carry real consequences.
1. Alabama’s Senate special election may now be competitive. Karl Rove recently warned that Roy Moore, twice removed from the state bench for ethics violations, is such an extremist, many Alabama voters will consider Doug Jones (D), a former federal prosecutor, as a credible alternative. Trump himself echoed this point on Friday night, arguing, “If [Luther Strange wins the primary], that race is over. If somebody else wins, I will tell you, that’s going to be a very tough race.”
2. Republicans don’t know how to prevent this from happening again. The GOP establishment stuck to a familiar playbook in the hopes of elevating Strange over Moore – including blanketing Alabama with campaign ads and giving Strange a massive financial edge – and local voters didn’t care. Other Republican incumbents fearing primary rivals are likely feeling pretty anxious this morning, knowing they could be next, and realizing the president and the party can’t be counted on to help propel them across the finish line. Don’t be surprised if the number of retirement announcements suddenly grows.
3. This is likely to encourage more primaries. Far-right Republicans, wondering if they should launch primary campaigns against establishment-backed GOP incumbents, now have a fresh incentive to throw their hat in the ring.
4. The battle for the party’s soul is intensifying. Part of Moore’s insurgent message to Republican primary voters was his vow to go up against the party’s leadership, and that resonated loudly with the GOP base in Alabama. Despite last year’s victories and its broad powers, the party is already struggling, and another round of infighting won’t help.
5. Roy Moore would make Mitch McConnell miserable. Moore isn’t exactly a go-along-get-along kind of politician. The words “team player” aren’t in his political vocabulary. If the former state Supreme Court chief justice actually makes it to the Senate, he will not only be the most radical member in a generation, he’ll also defy the GOP leadership’s wishes whenever it suits his fancy.
The general election in Alabama is Dec. 12. Buckle up.