The case some conservatives have made against McConnell is that the super-PAC tied to him, the Senate Leadership Fund, spent at least $1.5 million to defeat Alabama congressman Mo Brooks in the three-way primary and didn’t go after Roy Moore until he made it through to the runoff. McConnell wanted incumbent senator Luther Strange and reasoned that Strange stood a better chance of beating Moore in a head-to-head contest than he did of winning in a one-on-one runoff against Brooks. Brooks is something of a firebrand—a member of the House Freedom Caucus and an immigration hardliner—but he did not come anywhere close to representing the toxic threat that Roy Moore did. In the August 15 primary, Brooks came in third with 19.7 percent of the vote. Roy Moore, who finished first with 38.9 percent, and appointed senator Luther Strange, who finished second with 32.8 percent, advanced to the September runoff.

Why did McConnell’s allies go after Brooks and not Moore? According to a Senate GOP campaign strategist with ties to leadership, “based on early polling Roy Moore appeared to have a ceiling on his image, a ceiling on a head-to-head ballot [against Strange] because while he has long-time supporters, there are plenty of Republicans who were very concerned [Moore] might embarrass Alabama.”