Sessions Primary Tests Trump Influence With The GOP Base
President Trump faces a test of his influence over the Republican base on Tuesday when former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville faces off with ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a GOP primary runoff for Senate in Alabama.
While Trump canceled a planned rally with Tuberville in Sessions’s hometown, reportedly due to coronavirus concerns, he has left no ambiguity about where he stands: against his former attorney general returning to Washington.
The Senate race splits passionate Trump supporters across the country. Some, like the president, disapprove of Sessions’s recusal in the Trump-Russia investigation. Others credit Sessions with shaping the Trump immigration agenda as an adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign and doing more to implement it once in office than any other Cabinet official. They view Tuberville as antithetical to the more populist, nationalist variant of conservatism.
This includes Tucker Carlson, who has boosted Sessions on his influential prime-time Fox News show, and syndicated columnist Ann Coulter, the In Trump We Trust author who has since soured on the president because she does not believe he has done enough to fulfill his campaign promises on immigration.
“Back when the leadership of the Republican Party pushed in secret to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, and they did, Sen. Jeff Sessions stood almost alone in opposing it,” Carlson said. “He opposed intervening in Syria against a president who saved that country’s Christians. He opposed expanding our totally pointless presence in Afghanistan.” Carlson called Sessions “one of the very few politicians I do respect.”
But Republican voters in Alabama will decide. An Auburn University at Montgomery poll released on Friday found Tuberville leading Sessions 46.5% to 31.3%, with 22.2% undecided. Tuberville finished ahead of Sessions by a slim margin in the first round of voting in May, taking 33.4% to the former attorney general’s 31.6%.
“I think it shows the same trend that our poll showed from May, which is that Tuberville is going to win by double digits,” said Brent Buchanan, a Republican strategist with knowledge of local politics.
The Republican National Committee credited Trump with an 82-1 record of successful endorsements in primaries and special elections during the 2020 cycle as of June 29. That does not appear to count Trump-endorsed Rep. Denver Riggleman’s defeat at a Virginia GOP convention or Rep. Thomas Massie’s primary victory. Trump did not endorse Massie’s opponent, and the RNC says he did not rescind his support for the congressman, despite publicly calling for him to be thrown out of the Republican Party earlier this year.
Since then, Trump-endorsed, five-term Rep. Scott Tipton lost a primary in Colorado to Lauren Boebert. Lynda Bennett, Trump’s endorsed candidate in the North Carolina primary to replace Mark Meadows, now his White House chief of staff, was defeated by Madison Cawthorn.
“President Trump’s influence in Republican primaries is as strong as ever,” an RNC spokesman said in a statement.
“Both Sessions and Tuberville have strongly endorsed Trump, so it’s more personal than anything for the president,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “He blames Sessions for the whole Mueller fiasco. And what we have seen lately is that Trump’s personal endorsement is far less decisive than support of Trumpism. Supporting the president’s agenda is far more important than having the president support you.”
Sessions supporters say that he championed Trumpism before Trump did. The veteran Alabama politician was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump in the primaries. Top Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller came from Sessions’s Senate staff.
But the continued unraveling of the Trump-Russia investigation, now itself being scrutinized by Sessions’s Justice Department successor Attorney General William Barr, has not helped his cause. Trump has argued Sessions had his chance and failed, so Alabama Republicans should give Tuberville a shot.
When Sessions last ran for this Senate seat, he did not draw a Democratic opponent and received 97.5% of the vote in the general election. Since he resigned from Congress for his stint as attorney general, Trump has had bad luck with his endorsements despite his popularity in the state. Trump supported interim Sen. Luther Strange in the 2017 primary, who went on to lose to Roy Moore. Trump then backed Moore in the special election to fill the remainder of Sessions’s term, but the controversial Republican was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones.
The winner of the Sessions-Tuberville runoff will take on Jones this fall. It is considered the best Republican pickup opportunity as the GOP fights to defend its 53-47 Senate majority in a tough election cycle. Trump is heavily favored in Alabama in November.
Author: W. James Antle III
Source: Washington Examiner: Sessions primary tests Trump influence with the GOP base