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Mo Brooks, a representative from Alabama stood in front of the crowd at the Washington Monument to ask them if they would be willing to risk their lives for freedom. “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” the Alabama Republican said, wearing a MAGA-red “Fire Pelosi” baseball cap and body armor.
A few hours later, many of those at the pro-Donald Trump rally at the Ellipse had breached the Capitol, laid siege to lawmakers, and broke the building’s defenses for the first time since 1814. Soon after, Brooks joined more than 140 colleagues in voting against certification of Joe Biden’s victory. But Brooks’ actions earlier in the day infuriated many of his colleagues, prompting some of them to consider the rare step of expelling Brooks from the House. Brooks doubled his demands for an audit by the national forensics of the election and continued with the unfounded claim that Antifa is partly responsible for January’s violence.
Still, 14 months later, Trump withdrew his endorsement of Brooks to represent Alabama in the Senate, complaining that Brooks had gone “woke” and had been insufficiently supportive of his Big Lie. Trump could have responded to Brooks blowing a 44-point lead during the GOP primary. Brooks’ many attempts to appease Trump were irrelevant in the end.
Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party is a fickle affair. Support is not permanent. Strategy is dictated by whims. Grievances outweigh the evidence. Yet it is one of the most powerful drivers of America’s politics at the moment. Alabama has had its Senate representation elected more often than other states and seen Trump’s decisions more clearly than others.
A quick summary of Trump’s meddling in Alabama to date: he plucked its incumbent senator to serve as attorney general, a tortured tenure that resulted in summary dismissal; he then waded into a fraught, messy race to fill the seat, which ended up in Democratic hands for the first time in over 20 years; he successfully campaigned against that aforementioned attorney general’s attempt to return to the Senate; and then he endorsed and un-endorsed Brooks before backing his opponent, who on Tuesday night won the nomination and, with it, likely the Senate race.
In other words, Trump’s gut-based endorsements and his overwhelming need to be seen as a winner may have a larger impact on Alabama’s voting patterns than any precinct in Huntsville, Birmingham, or Montgomery. His sway provided a striking contrast Tuesday night to the outcome in Georgia, where Republican voters passed over Trump’s picks for two House seats. Robert Penn Warren may have crowned Willie Stark, a fictional Southern state king, as the real-life Kingmaker of Alabama.
Alabama, which Trump can exercise his political skills in, is a strange place. Trump is a New Yorker now living in West Palm Beach. When he stops by Alabama, it always makes him feel out of his element. Trump’s every word is held in high regard by the Republican voters.
Trump’s relevant political ties to the state go back to February 2016, when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions became the first sitting senator to back his bid for president, just days before Alabama participated in Super Tuesday. Sessions expanded his role as an informal adviser to the campaign and, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also helped Trump navigate his promises on Supreme Court nominees—a move that helped Trump win over skeptical Evangelicals who didn’t really like the thrice-married New Yorker but saw potential in reshaping the Court to overturn abortion rights. For a time, Sessions even made the short list for Trump’s running mate.
Sessions appeared to be a good choice for president-elect when it was time to name the attorney general. Many of Sessions’ senior aides were already part of the transition team. This included its executive director, who was also a Sessions chief-of-staff. And Sessions shared Trump’s views on immigration, a key ingredient that Trump’s team believed would hold together his coalition. Trump instead treated Sessions as a punching bag, and fired him.
Sessions’ exit from the Senate in early 2017 opened the door for Luther Strange, then the state attorney general, who had already said he planned to run for the seat whether he was appointed or not.
Trump thought differently. Although Strange was a reliable vote for Trump’s agenda and in no meaningful way had contradicted the president, Trump still wasn’t sure that it was the right pick. White House officials intervened to convince Trump that Strange would be his choice in the second round. Brooks was running in the same race as McConnell. He believed McConnell’s team misled Trump, and he said so. Strange was unable to beat Roy Moore, an ex-state Supreme Court justice, who had the record of installing the Ten Commandments into his courtroom, his courthouse and instructing jurors about praying.
Washington Republicans warned that Moore was not to be trusted. Moore had been charged with sexual assault while in his 30s and was allegedly dating teenage girls. Trump supported Moore and ran for his election. Moore was defeated by Doug Jones (ex-civil rights prosecutor), by 1.6 points. Trump carried the same state last year by 28 percentage points.
Trump decided once more to play football when Jones was up for re-election. To support Tommy Tuberville in his fight against Sessions, he waited for the runoff. Trump’s former AG tried to get right with Trump, but the president would have none of it and worked to help Tuberville, who would later try to help Trump’s Big Lie prevail during his first days in the Senate.
Which brings us to this week’s runoff. At first, Trump sided with Brooks. After all, Brooks had embraced Trump’s paranoia about election fraud, going so far as to sleep in his Capitol Hill office to avoid going home, where he believed he was vulnerable to a deadly threat from those conspiring against the former president. His Twitter profile was “Mo Brooks — Endorsed By President Trump” and his campaign literature called him “MAGA Mo.”
But as the fallout from Jan. 6 became more clear, Brooks had started to go wobbly in Trump’s eyes. Brooks dare to suggest that it was now time for Republicans not to stop thinking about the 2020 election. He called the certification on Jan. 6, 2021, the final word on the elections and said there was nothing Congress could do to “reinstate” Trump, who continues to insist that is still possible. Trump pulled the endorsement despite Brooks refusing to testify before the panel that investigated Jan. 6.
Brooks denied he had gone “woke” and he wasn’t wrong. Reportedly, he cheered on the mob and, in recent weeks, tried to get back in Trump’s good graces. After that, he slammed Trump as being disloyal.
Trump didn’t blink. Trump endorsed Katie Britt (a former chief staffer to Senator Richard Shelby), who is now retiring. Britt and her husband sagely sought audiences with Trump, who seemed impressed by Britt’s husband, a former NFL player. Brooks and Britt fought to a draw during the May 24 primary, leading to Tuesday’s runoff, which Britt won by 26 points.
It was not surprising that the results came out. Brooks was a MAGA-soaked Trump critic before he linked to Trump. He wrongly believed that loyalty would be rewarded. Brooks by all accounts ran an uneven campaign while Britt—a Hill insider turned lobbyist—ran as an outsider. Her age of 40 makes her the youngest senator and she could keep the seat for decades. Which, of course, sounds pretty appealing whether you’re a Trump interested in cementing a legacy or if you’re a Trump simply fueled by vengeance.
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