With the dust still settling, many Washington Republicans are mystified—and alarmed—by the fact that not even Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump had enough populist cred to swing a primary race to his candidate in deep-red Alabama. While the GOP’s class of professional strategists are generally ambivalent at best when it comes to the president, they had taken a certain comfort in believing that he was fully in command of his base. The assumption allowed them to draw conclusions about what his voters wanted, how to cater to them—and how to avoid drawing their wrath.
But Alabama fully punctured the illusion that Trump was in control. For all the race’s idiosyncrasies—Trump’s endorsement of the more establishment-friendly candidate was uncharacteristic for him, and his support often seemed conflicted—it seemed to reveal that there was a limit to his supporters’ loyalty.