On Friday night, Donald Trump traveled to Alabama in the hopes of giving appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) an 11th-hour boost ahead of tomorrow’s primary runoff. Shortly before the president spoke, however, one of the president’s high-profile cabinet secretaries announced his support for Strange’s rival. The Washington Post reported:
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson issued a statement Friday supporting Roy Moore’s candidacy for the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama, breaking with President Trump’s endorsement of the establishment-backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange.
Though Carson did not explicitly use the word “endorse” in his written statement, he didn’t leave any doubts about whom he wants Alabama voters to support. “Judge Moore is a fine man of proven character and integrity, who I have come to respect over the years,” Carson said. “He is truly someone who reflects the Judeo-Christian values that were so important to the establishment of our country.
“It is these values that we must return to make America great again. I wish him well and hope everyone will make sure they vote on Tuesday.”
For now, let’s put aside the bizarre belief that Roy Moore’s theocratic vision and multiple ethical violations that forced him from the bench will “make America great.” Instead, let’s focus on the angles that make this story so problematic for Carson.
The first is the fact that a sitting president is publicly supporting one Senate candidate while one of his current cabinet secretaries is effectively telling voters, “Don’t listen to my boss; vote for the other candidate.” This kind of split within an administration is practically unheard of.
The second is that cabinet secretaries cannot legally intervene in ongoing political races. Ben Carson should know this – because it was just last year that his immediate predecessor got in trouble for running afoul of this prohibition.
Last summer, then-HUD Secretary Julian Castro sat down with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric and, after stressing that he was speaking in his personal capacity, the cabinet secretary expressed his support for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. The Office of Special Counsel deemed this impermissible: the fact that he said he was taking off his cabinet “hat” during the interview didn’t matter. Castro was a sitting cabinet secretary, and under the Hatch Act, he couldn’t legally support a candidate during an election.
To be sure, there are more serious legal missteps – violating the Hatch Act doesn’t exactly put someone in the slammer – but it appears Carson learned nothing from the incident.
What’s more, as recently as last month, Carson appeared at a political rally, after which he faced accusations of – you guessed it – violating the Hatch Act, mixing campaign politics with his official duties.
Finally, at Trump’s event in Alabama, the president told attendees that people close to him asked if he’d mind if they supported Roy Moore over Luther Strange. “I said, ‘Really, you can.’ I mean, some of them are working for me and they feel and that’s fine. Of course, they may not have a job on Monday…. We may have to get rid of a few of them.”
It wasn’t clear from context to whom Trump was referring, but I guess Carson is on notice?