While it hasn’t been generating all that much heat on cable news, Alabama has an election coming up on Tuesday with at least one race that people have been fretting over. It’s the GOP Senate primary runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville. Donald Trump staked out his position relatively early, endorsing Tuberville over his former Attorney General and drawing some (mild) rebukes from Sessions in return. But why?
Okay, I suppose we all know the primary reason why. The President has never gotten over his anger at Sessions for recusing himself in the Russiagate probe. But that’s pretty far in the rearview mirror at this point, or at least it should be. There was a brief moment recently when it looked like the President might be wavering. Trump canceled a planned rally to support Tuberville, but that looks more like a decision based on spiking coronavirus numbers and fears of a low turnout as a result, rather than wavering on his support of the former Auburn University football coach.
But aside from the Russiagate recusal issue, Sessions has been an ardent supporter of Trump from the earliest days of his presidency. Tuberville, while having plenty of good things to say about the President, is more of an unknown player. Also, Sessions was probably the biggest driver of the push to get rid of DACA, and that was one of Trump’s big issues over the course of his first term. Dumping DACA was basically Sessions’ brand. Of course, now that the President has gone on Noticias Telemundo and said he was going to handle DACA with an executive order and provide a “road to citizenship” for DACA recipients, that might be out the window as well.
Just as a small side note here, I tend to agree with Gabriel Malor’s take(s) on this one. Trump’s unexpected announcement re: DACA may have been a combination of two things. One could be that the President knew he was speaking to a primarily Spanish language audience so he just tossed in something off-script that he thought they might like to hear. Also, instead of “citizenship” he might have been referring to some other form of legal status. Either would be a stunning reversal as it is, but I rather doubt full “citizenship” was what he had in mind.
Returning to Tuesday’s race, there is one other possibility to keep in mind, albeit a more politically crude one. The President loves backing a winner and as of the end of this week, the first independent poll we’ve seen in a while (as opposed to polls commissioned by either of the two campaigns) is showing Tuberville with a lead of as much as sixteen points. The coach is leading Sessions 47 to 31. The 22% undecided vote this late in the game means that Sessions isn’t out of this thing yet, and if the COVID-19 spike seriously depresses turnout, anything can happen. But for the most part, Sessions looks like he’s in trouble and Donald Trump doesn’t like backing losers.
What it may just come down to in the end, though, is that this is Alabama and it’s pretty solid Trump country. With the President discarding Sessions in favor of the coach, that may wind up being all it took. But if Sessions does come storming back for the win and winds up ousting Doug Jones in November, his relationship with President Trump might not be quite as cozy next year, assuming there is a second Trump term.