How Donald Trump’s endorsement flip-flop roiled the U.S. Senate race in Alabama

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, plasters his campaign rallies with signs for “MAGA Mo” and echoes Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.

Her rival, Katie Britt, says there were “major problems” with the vote, but stopped short of Trump’s baseless claim that it was robbed. She fought her way to the front of the race with the help of GOP leaders that Trump mocks “RINO” — Republicans in name only.

But heading into Tuesday’s runoff, Trump is squarely behind Britt – who is seen by local Republicans as the frontrunner – and is drawing heavy criticism from Brooks, making it one of the more unusual findings of a primary fight this year. The winner of the GOP nomination will start the general election as a heavy favorite in this ruby-red state.

Trump’s support for the 2022 Republican primaries

A year ago, Trump’s choice seemed obvious: He endorsed Brooks, the loyalist who once boasted of “leading the charge” to reject Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. But while Brooks fell in the polls in March, Trump dropped him and raged over the congressman’s suggestion that voters were “looking forward” to 2022 and 2024, eventually issuing a last-minute endorsement for Britt.

The seesaw and its aftermath show how Trump’s midterm freewheeling endorsement strategy has at times blurred GOP battle lines, forcing some longtime allies to fight for his constituents and leaving some loyal supporters of the former president disillusioned. His spotty record and a few surprise picks have fueled debate among voters, strategists and even candidates over his hold on the movement he claims to lead.

In the final days of the race here in Alabama, Brooks accused Trump of abandoning his political movement to pick a winner after humiliating defeats in other states.

“If I give someone my word, I stick to it,” he told reporters after his Friday rally at the Huntsville airport, days after telling an Alabama columnist that Trump “has no loyalty to anyone or anything but himself”.

While waiting for a photo with Brooks at the event, Steve Henderson said he thinks Trump will help the GOP by running for president in 2024. But after Trump was toppled in the Senate race, the man from 60-year-old said he wasn’t so sure.

“People had more passion for Trump early on,” echoed Sara Williamson, 76, who was waiting behind Henderson with a camera in hand. “It’s like a wedding. You’re passionate at first, then things take a turn for the worse.

“When Things Heat Up, What Comes Out?” she says. “The truth…I think now we see who Trump is.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Trump has posted a shaky record in contested Republican primaries so far this year. His favorite gubernatorial candidates suffered defeats in Georgia, Nebraska and Idaho, while he had successes in the US Senate primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where he backed candidates some deemed insufficiently conservative. A pair of South Carolina primaries for the US House last week ended in mixed results for Trump.

As in other Republican primaries, Trump’s endorsement has long been considered a coveted seal of approval in Alabama. Former Republican congressman from Alabama Bradley Byrne – who is friends with both Britt and Brooks, and refused to split his vote – recalled his first conversation with Britt about the Senate race. “Katie,” he said, “the first thing you have to do is go down and see President Trump.”

Trump remains popular in the state, where he won 62% of the vote in 2020. Some political observers have said that Brooks’ harsh words for the former president could hurt the congressman in the runoff.

But the ups and downs of the GOP primary have also undermined the notion of Trump as a Republican kingmaker. Brooks lost ground to rivals Britt and Mike Durant despite Trump’s early endorsement; the congressman got a second wind in the race after Trump jumped ship. And Britt took the lead in the Alabama primary on May 24, winning 44.7% of the vote to Brooks’ 29.2% and triggering a runoff because no candidate won a majority. .

By the time Trump announced his new endorsement on June 10, Britt was widely favored by strategists and observers to win Tuesday’s second round. David Hughes, a political science professor at Auburn University in Montgomery, said the former CEO of Alabama’s business council represents the GOP’s “business wing” but has also worked to reinforce dominance. of Brooks with the “base populist” camp.

Hughes and others have noted that Britt has steered clear of statements that could anger Trump and alienate his supporters — even as she appeals to voters who view Trump unfavorably.

“It would be another thing if Britt was campaigning, you know, really critical of Trump,” said Hughes, who led a recent poll on the Alabama Senate race. “But she isn’t. She was smart enough not to engage in this kind of rhetoric.”

Even after Trump chose Brooks, Britt and her campaign maintained a connection, according to Byrne, the former congressman. Britt, a former chief of staff to incumbent Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), met with Trump and visited one of his rallies.

“Katie and her people were savvy enough to, you know, go into the Trump world and say, hey, look, that guy you endorsed isn’t doing well,” Byrne said, citing his conversations with campaign members. . “And I think that caught their attention.”

Britt’s campaign did not make her available for an interview. Sean Ross, a Britt campaign spokesman, did not comment on Britt’s efforts to win Trump’s approval. “Alabamians are tired of career politicians doing nothing, and they’re ready for fresh blood,” Ross said in an emailed statement. He called Britt “the best candidate to fight for the U.S. Senate to uphold Alabama’s conservative Christian values, advance the Americas-first agenda, and expand 21st-century opportunities for working families across America.” ‘Alabama”.

Boosted by millions in super PAC spending — much of it from groups linked to Shelby and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — Britt has presented herself as a fresh face with Christian and conservative values . His campaign ads focus on issues such as inflation and border security and target the Biden administration.

The day Trump endorsed her, Britt tweeted, “President Trump knows Alabamians are tired of failed, inactive career politicians.” Since then, Britt hasn’t put much emphasis on approving her social media accounts. Asked about it, Ross said the Britt campaign ran a TV ad and ran online spots promoting Trump’s endorsement.

Brooks, meanwhile, stands as the only genuine MAGA contender in the race. “Don’t send us weak sauce,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another anti-establishment Republican, urged a crowd of about 100 Friday afternoon as he joined Brooks in Huntsville. “Don’t send us moderate milquetoasts. Don’t send us weak Republicans, send us a real conservative!

The crowd booed as he denounced the “RINOs” in Congress who supported Britt and laughed as he noted that Anthony S. Fauci, 81, Biden’s reviled medical adviser on the right, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Spencer Kimball, who has led race polls since March, said Brooks supporters increasingly said Trump’s picks made no difference to them. “They just kind of pushed back,” the Emerson College associate professor said, describing “a lot of cognitive dissonance among voters.”

Jerry Duke, 66, declined to criticize Trump on Friday, although he said he was “disappointed” with the former president’s handling of the endorsement.

“MAGA doesn’t belong to Trump,” he said at Brooks’ event.

Trump said he broke with Brooks over the congressman’s comments at a rally last August in Cullman, Alabama, where Brooks was booed for trying to look past campaign grievances. “Some people are discouraged by voter fraud, the theft of the 2020 election,” he said. “Guys, put that behind you.”

The crowd howled its displeasure.

Seven months later, in March, Trump lambasted those rallying comments as he rescinded his endorsement and called Brooks “woke.” Brooks, in response, said Trump had asked him to try to “cancel” the 2020 vote, install Trump in the White House, and “hold another special election.” Even Brooks — who spoke at a rally ahead of the U.S. Capitol uprising by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, 2021 — dismissed that as overbreadth.

“As a lawyer, I have repeatedly informed President Trump that January 6 was the final verdict of the electoral contest and that neither the United States Constitution nor the United States Code permits what President Trump is asking for,” said Brooks in a statement at the time. “Period.”

Brooks spent the next two months seeking to excuse Trump’s decision-making, accusing McConnell of manipulating the former president and publicly pressuring Trump to reconsider. This month, Brooks speculated that Trump was like a football coach, all-knowing and delivering “the kick in the pants we needed.”

Then came Trump’s endorsement of Britt – the candidate he had once called a “helper” to “Senator RINO of Alabama, close friend of Old Crow Mitch McConnell, Richard C. Shelby.” Brooks vented on Trump to columnist Kyle Whitmire, saying the former president “left the conservative movement and the MAGA agenda in order to try to improve his brand reputation.”

Some voters tiptoed when asked about Brooks’ new personal jab at Trump – that he lacks loyalty.

“You could associate that with a conclusion with his actions,” said Henderson, the voter uncertain about whether Trump should run in 2024.

But lifelong Republican Kristee Rutland, 54, was happy to see Brooks calling Trump an infidel. “I’m just glad someone said it out loud,” said the Huntsville resident and small business owner.

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