WASHINGTON — Last month on her syndicated radio show, conservative talker Laura Ingraham took a look at the possible 2016 presidential field — beyond Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush — and made an appeal for a candidate who has gotten a few mentions here and there over the years, but never seriously as a presidential candidate: Mobile’s own Jeff Sessions.
“Jeff Sessions; we need Sessions for president,” Ingraham said. “Really, is there anyone out there who is better than Jeff Sessions on any of these issues? He’s great. I think someone like Sessions could probably attract Democrats, Hispanics who are here legally who are tired of these stupid trade agreements and who have had their own wages undercut by illegal immigration, African-Americans, certainly I think a lot of Tea Party people. Sessions is one of the few people to actually say it like it is.”
Ingraham’s remarks caught on around the conservative blogosphere and were received with some mild approval. But a few days later in a speech before Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, Sessions downplayed that idea and said that he does not think he is qualified for the job.
Just a thought experiment, what if? How might it go if Sessions decided to at least give it a shot and run in for the 2016 Republican Party nomination? Yes, there would be problems, especially in the sort of “American Idol” popularity contest that constitutes national elections.
When asked about “Sessions 2016,” one conservative insider praised his politics but downplayed his chances because of his height and Southern accent. In the so-called television era of presidential politics, only Jimmy Carter has been shorter than 5-foot-10. And to his credit, Carter also overcame the stereotype that accompanies the Southern accent in our country’s coastal elitist corridors.
If Sessions decided to forgo any concern with those cosmetic obstacles, where would he start? How would he finance the run? He is up for re-election in the Senate this year, so if he were to run, he would not have to worry about his Senate seat being contested in the same election cycle.
Sessions’ best chance would be to focus on the Iowa caucus. During the 2012 Republican primary, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) eked out a 34-vote win (out of 121,503 ballots cast) over former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.). Though it wasn’t a resounding victory for Santorum, it was still an upset over a much better-funded Romney. That would set the tone for many of the other contests matching up Santorum and Romney. Santorum would be the second-to-last man standing before conceding the contest to Romney, the eventual nominee.
It would require a Santorum-like effort from Sessions. Santorum, in the run up to the caucus, made multiple stops at every nook and cranny in Iowa. Unlike Santorum, however, Sessions will probably still be in the U.S. Senate, making a Santorum-like effort very difficult.
The other big question would be how would Sessions finance a 2016 run? Romney had some help from the establishment and spent some of his own fortune on his effort. Santorum won the favor of self-made billionaire Foster Friess.
When it comes to the big money in presidential politics, Sessions would have another obstacle — ironically the very issue that has made him attractive to many as a potential candidate in the first place: immigration.
Much of the big money in politics has been supportive of immigration reform simply because the investment community sees passing such reforms as a means to lower labor costs.
Supposing he could overcome the alleged accent impediment, where Alabama’s junior senator could be the strongest is perhaps on the debate stage.
Although the Republican National Committee has vowed to curb the number of debates during the primary contests for 2016 cycle, some candidates have been able to use that platform to make gains in the horse race. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich managed to pull off a win in the South Carolina in 2012 by the taking the fight to the media in a debate.
Sessions’ style is not as bombastic as Gingrich, but he does strike the right balance of populism and the conservative Tea Party message. It’s hard to say whether or not his message would resonate in all of these locales where the early primary contests take place, but there doesn’t look to be a better-prepared candidate. Remember, Sessions logged 33 hours of talk on a variety of issues on the Senate floor in 2013, the most of anyone in the Senate. That takes a lot of preparation.
Where would he be weak?
In any contentious political situation that has involved Sessions, his 1986 nomination to the federal bench is brought up. Then-U.S. Attorney Sessions was nominated by President Ronald Reagan for an appointment to the federal bench. But accusations that as a federal prosecutor he was racially insensitive arose and that wound up being his ultimate undoing.
Political opponents in the left-wing media during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were quick to bring that up as Sessions was serving as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thus it would be hard to imagine he would escape the mention of that in any sort of contentious presidential nomination contest on a state-by-state basis.
An editorial in the left-leaning Anniston Star discouraged a Sessions 2016 run. It was more critical of the state government than Sessions as a candidate, but it made a valid point in that Alabama’s junior senator doesn’t need a 2016 run to raise his profile. So staying put as U.S. Senator is his best bet for now.
After his defeat by the Senate for the federal bench 1986, Sessions would re-emerge as a candidate for Alabama attorney general in 1994. He went on to win that race against then-incumbent Democrat AG Jimmy Evans in a wave election year for Republicans, and served in Montgomery for two years.
Although it was a short tenure for Sessions, those two years, as has been much of history for Alabama politics, were a target-rich environment if one sought to fight corruption. Sessions took on two high-profile corruption probes: one into former Gov. Jim Folsom, a Democrat, and one into former Gov. Guy Hunt, a Republican. At the time it was seen as potentially a political risk but also demonstrated he had willingness to pursue corruption regardless of political affiliation.
Should a Republican, other than Sessions of course, win in 2016 — what might their Cabinet look like?
Enter Sessions as a possible U.S. Attorney General.
Having served in the world’s most exclusive club known as the U.S. Senate, he would likely be confirmed by that body. And he does have the experience as an AG, so why not?