So the pretense has finally evaporated, right? We’ll see. Jeff Sessions has continued to sell himself as a MAGA-backing candidate in his bid to win back his Senate seat in Alabama, while Donald Trump has continued to trash his former Attorney General on Twitter. Until now, Sessions has largely ignored it, but apparently he had enough last night. Trump marked the three-year anniversary of Sessions’ recusal from the Operation Crossfire Hurricane probe by telling Alabama voters “do not trust Jeff Sessions.”

Sessions responded by telling Trump to pound sand:

Is Sessions sure about that? Trump might not dictate voters’ choice in Alabama, but he’s certainly going to have an influence on that decision. Sessions had an answer for that in his follow-up tweet by arguing that Trump’s getting hoodwinked by Tuberville. The real #MAGA agenda champion is Sessions, not Trump’s pick, who Sessions claims is too afraid to debate the former AG about it:

Why did Sessions take the gloves off at this late date? Trump has been trashing Sessions non-stop for three years over the recusal, regardless of its debatable wisdom, even while keeping Sessions on as AG. Alabama is #MAGA Country, of course, so it would be political suicide for Sessions to have attacked Trump, but Sessions made himself conspicuously obsequious to Trump in this campaign. Literally his first ad was a tribute to his former boss, perhaps in hope that Trump would be mollified enough to just stay out of the primary. It appeared to work — at first.  Despite ongoing praise and expressions of loyalty for Trump and an attack on John Bolton for criticizing the president, Trump started slamming Sessions once the runoff was set up, now scheduled for July 14.

The first hint that Sessions might have decided to start pushing back came at the beginning of the month, when Sessions told Fox News that he warned Trump to fire James Comey “on Day One” of his presidency. Now comes this clear brushback directly at Trump for perhaps the first time in three years. What gives? Perhaps being down twenty-plus points in the runoff has convinced Sessions that he needs to be less supine to win back support:

A poll conducted May 7-10 by the firm Cygnal shows Tommy Tuberville leading Jeff Sessions in the Republican runoff in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race by more than 20 percentage points.

The survey of 607 likely Republican voters showed 55.1% probably or definitely favoring Tuberville, to 31.8% probably or definitely favoring Sessions.

Breaking that down further, 36.5% definitely favored Tuberville, and 19.4% definitely favored Sessions.

That’s an awful poll for a near-incumbent with decades of experience in the Senate against a celebrity upstart. Sessions finished a close second behind Tuberville in the primary, 33/31, in early March. If this poll is accurate (RealClearPolitics has nothing since the primary), Sessions hasn’t picked up any voters since then. Tuberville has managed to consolidate most of the rest of the Republican vote, which might explain why Tuberville doesn’t feel the need to debate Sessions. What would he gain by doing so?

Sessions might figure that fighting back might win him a little more respect from #MAGA voters, if not affection. That’s probably not going to work, but obsequiously brown-nosing Trump while getting trashed by him clearly wasn’t working either. This might be a Hail Mary play to get Trump to shower Sessions with earned media in an open and now two-sided feud, and perhaps getting more support with the extra attention. Or, perhaps, Sessions realizes that his goose is cooked whatever happens now, and with nothing left to lose, is no longer worried about openly criticizing Trump. If so, it’s still mild enough to be hedging bets, and still leaves some room for pretense.