Trump’s Brand Is On The Line In Alabama Senate Race : NPR
President Trump’s brand faces a major test on Tuesday in the Alabama Republican Senate primary runoff.
His preferred candidate is Luther Strange, the incumbent senator who has consistently trailed in the polls to firebrand conservative Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice.
Trump was just in Alabama stumping for Strange on Friday, where he landed himself in controversy, calling for the firing of NFL players who don’t stand for the national anthem.
If Strange were to lose in a state where Trump has an approval rating in the low 80s, it could embolden a wing of conservative activists who have endorsed Moore, from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
But if Strange were to pull off the win, it would show that Trump’s brand still eclipses anyone else in the conservative movement.
The seat was vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Trump has taken sides with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in this fight, endorsing a candidate thought to be more palatable to a broader GOP base. On the other side is a man who arguably is more like Trump. A Moore win could foreshadow further upsets against Republican establishment picks, which Trump and others argue potentially gives a clearer path to victory for Democrats in some races.
Vice President Pence campaigned Monday night.
“Big Luther’s been making a big difference in Washington, D.C., and he’s just getting started,” Pence said. “And when you look at what President Trump has accomplished, you’ll see Sen. Strange has been there every step of the way.”
Trump’s endorsement has been a rallying cry for Strange throughout the campaign, including at a recent debate, where he stressed at every turn that it was he, not Moore, who had Trump’s endorsement.
But in many ways, the Trump base aligns more naturally with Moor. He’s a well known conservative culture warrior who rose to national prominence when he refused to take down a Ten Commandments monument in front of a state judicial building in 2003.
More recently, he tried to stop the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage from taking effect in the state; he was suspended and eventually resigned.
Both of those decisions ultimately cost him his place on the bench, but it helped him bolster a reputation that he was unafraid to take on national powers, especially on issues that go against his conservative Christian values that are central to many core Alabama GOP voters.
And with the way the president has seized on the culture wars — including his off-message diatribe at Friday’s rally about NFL players disrespecting the American flag in order to protest racial injustices — it’s Moore who is more of a natural fit for much of Trump’s base.
“They just believe Moore is his own man, and that’s what they liked about Trump,” said Alabama GOP pollster Brent Buchanan.
Virtually all of the people that helped catapult Trump to the White House have lined up behind Moore — Bannon, former national security aide Sebastian Gorka, Fox News host Sean Hannity, radio host Laura Ingraham and even his own Secretary of Health and Human Services Ben Carson.
After appearing at a rally for Moore on Monday night, alongside Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson and Britain’s Brexit leader Nigel Farage, Bannon went on Fox News Channel’s Hannity and said the reason he and other “hardcore Trump supporters” were all lining up behind Moore over Strange was to protect the president and the vision he set out during the 2016 campaign.
“I think Roy Moore is the guy that’s going to support Donald Trump and fight the establishment,” Bannon said, calling the race a referendum on the “party of the elites” and a test of whether the “muscle of the grassroots” can triumph again.
GOP strategists in D.C. worry that a Moore victory on Tuesday could trigger the kind of all-out intraparty war Bannon has been gunning for since he left the White House, hoping to knock off other incumbent Republicans he sees as too close to the GOP establishment and not supportive enough of Trump. Now, to do that, Bannon just needs to knock of Trump’s own candidate.
“When you send Judge Moore to D.C., he is going to be an inspiration for the rest of the country for other candidates across the country to rise up and take on their own swamp creatures in their own states,” Palin predicted at a rally for Moore last Thursday.
“Mr. President and Mr. V.P. — I love you but you are WRONG!” read one sign being held up at that event.
There are several reasons Strange has been hamstrung as the candidate of the establishment, despite his blessing by Trump. A superPAC allied with McConnell has spent $9 million hammering Moore, hoping to stop the kind of primary challenge floodgates Palin warned of from happening after a Moore victory.