Jeff Sessions of Alabama became the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump on Sunday. Sessions, donning a red "Make America Great Again" hat, told the crowd that he was throwing his support behind this "movement" because, in his best estimation, "at this time in America's history, we need to make America great again!"
Less than a week ago, Donald Trump may have been the Republican frontrunner, but he was also the only candidate in the race without a single endorsement from a GOP governor or member of Congress. Quite a bit has changed over the course of six days.
Trump picked up support from two U.S. House Republicans last week, which was followed by two gubernatorial endorsements on Friday. Late yesterday, a U.S. senator joined the team, too.
Note, Sessions is arguably the most popular politician in Alabama -- he ran unopposed in 2014, scaring off primary and general-election challengers -- which will hold its Super Tuesday primary tomorrow.
Yesterday was not, however, the first time the two appeared together in Alabama. Last summer, Trump hosted a rally in Mobile, and the far-right senator joined the candidate on the stage, but Sessions held off making a formal endorsement. That obviously changed late yesterday.
In addition to helping Trump at a key moment, Sessions' announcement represents a significant blow to Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican, who is now the only top GOP contender with zero Senate endorsements, made no secret of his outreach to Sessions, whom he worked closely with in 2013 while trying to kill Marco Rubio's "Gang of Eight" immigration bill.
If any Senate Republican was going to support Cruz, it was Sessions -- and Sessions now supports Trump. It's as if the Alabama lawmaker was waiting to see which of the two anti-immigration candidates was in a stronger position, and Sessions sided with the candidate likely to win his state's primary tomorrow.
There's also the matter of Sessions' timing. As we discussed earlier, the political story of the day yesterday focused on an awkward Sunday show appearance Trump made in which he hedged on his denunciation of David Duke. It was of great interest, then, to see Alabama's Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III choose yesterday, of all days, to throw his official support to the GOP frontrunner.
The New Republic published a piece in 2002 on Sessions' background, which included a stint as a U.S. Attorney, when his most notable prosecution targeted three civil rights workers, including a former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., on trumped up charges of voter fraud.
The TNR piece added that Sessions, during his career in Alabama, called the NAACP "un-American" because, among other groups, it "forced civil rights down the throats of people." A former career Justice Department official who worked with Sessions recalled an instance in which he referred to a white attorney as a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. Sessions later acknowledged having made many of the controversial remarks attributed to him, but he claimed to have been joking.
What's more, Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama and an African American, later explained that during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions once again acknowledged making the remark, but once again claimed to have been kidding. Figures also remembered having heard Sessions call him "boy," and once warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks."
When the Reagan administration nominated Sessions for the federal bench in 1986, the Senate rejected him because of his controversial record on race.
Sessions got his revenge by getting elected to the chamber that rejected him. He's now using that Senate seat to boost Donald Trump.