In his rally for Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, President Trump gave one of the most qualified endorsements of a candidate in the history of presidential endorsements.
Yet even as he offered enthusiastic praise of Mr. Strange, Mr. Trump conceded he was conflicted about having waded into the primary contest, to be held on Tuesday, which pits the senator against former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, an evangelical conservative who has the backing of many of the president’s anti-establishment supporters.
“I shouldn’t be doing it — the last thing I want to do is be involved in a primary,” Mr. Trump said, adding, almost as if to himself: “I might have made a mistake.” If Mr. Strange loses, he mused aloud, adopting the dramatic tone of a television newscaster, it will be portrayed as “a total embarrassment” for him.
“I’m taking a big risk, because if Luther doesn’t make it, they’re going to go after me,” the president said of the news media.
Mr. Trump assured the crowd that should that happen, he would intensively back Mr. Strange’s rival, drawing an ovation from the arena’s capacity crowd even as he essentially undercut his own message days before voters go to the polls.
“If his opponent wins, I’m going to be here campaigning like hell for him,” Mr. Trump said, although he added that Mr. Moore “has a very good chance of not winning” in the general election against a Democrat.
Trump entered this rate late:
Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2017
And, according to reports, he did so reluctantly, and only after being convinced by unnamed advisers that Strange could win the race. His involvement in this has puzzled me and the only explanation I can arrive at is that Strange was supported by McConnell and supporting Strange was a way of trying to build a relationship with the Majority Leader…because there is no evidence one exists right now. If that were the rationale, it is easy to finger who was behind the decision and it was not Steve Bannon.
What made the rally so interesting was that Strange was running–fast–from Mitch McConnell. Not only did Trump assure the crowd that Strange was not a McConnell ally, so did Strange:
The Republican primary in Alabama’s Senate race is a proxy battle between political outsiders, who largely support challenger Roy Moore, and the GOP establishment, which backs incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. But Strange on Saturday declined to give a vote of confidence to the face of his establishment base, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Appearing on Fox News the morning after a campaign rally headlined by President Trump, Strange was asked whether he will support McConnell’s continuation as majority leader if the party’s latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act fails.
Strange seemed uncomfortable and stumbled through a noncommittal answer.
“Well, I’ve said all along that, uh, you know, if we don’t get things to progress — progressing in Washington, we’ll — we’ll look at every option,” he said. “Whether we need — need new leadership, whether we need a new approach, I talked to the president about that. You know, we’ve got to get things done. The frustration level is through the roof, and I’m the most frustrated person, uh, out there, believe me.”
On the whole, though, I give Trump credit for several things. First, he followed through on his promise to hold a rally for Strange. I really didn’t think this would happen because of the stench of flopsweat that has attached itself to Strange’s campaign. Second, the rally was positive and upbeat. Trump praised Strange but didn’t go after Roy Moore. In fact, he endorsed Moore at Strange’s rally. He made the best of a bad situation and didn’t hurt himself with Alabama Republicans who are going to had a ass-whipping to Luther Strange on Tuesday.