Being Jeff Sessions right now must be a pretty tough gig.
We all know how he happily gave up his U.S. Senate seat in order to become Donald Trump’s first attorney general, only to have that job blow up almost immediately when he recused himself from handling “The Russian Investigation.” Ultimately he was blamed by his boss for the appointment of an independent counsel and treated as a political pariah.
But it should have been easy enough for Sessions just to waltz back in and get his old seat back here in Podunk, Alabama, right? He’s wildly popular, right? He’s the Yellowhammer State’s 2,000-pound political gorilla, right? However, it’s three weeks from the Republican primary runoff, and Sessions’ canoe is taking on water from all directions as desperation starts to set in.
While it was certainly no surprise this past weekend when President Trump simultaneously endorsed former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville and verbally body slammed Sessions, it was also probably the most anyone has paid attention to his campaign since COVID-19 became the smash number one hit we’ve all been singing and dancing to for months.
Sessions tried to break through the pandemic pandemonium during lockdown with a hardcore plan for either hammering China or starting a war, but that does not appear to have captured the imagination of the Alabama electorate. Right now the average Alabamian is a whole lot more fixated on avoiding personal bankruptcy and disease than starting WWIII. Most seem content to save all that for once we’re back on our feet.
So now he’s challenging Tuberville to five separate debates and calling him a coward for refusing to confront him. Even as a debate fan who thinks it should be a requirement for people running for office to publicly discuss their plans, Sessions’ tack here smacks of hypocrisy. He wanted nothing to do with debates earlier in this race when the state’s political seers decided his entry into the campaign would be nothing short of a coronation.
Frankly, I’m not so sure a debate would do him that much good anyway, because Tuberville brings a lot of charisma and public speaking skill to the table. Sessions wouldn’t be a shoe-in to “win” any debate between the two. But polling indicates Jeff is far behind, so naturally standing on any available tree stump and jawing with Tubby now sounds like a great idea. One ripped right from the “Losing Political Candidates’ Playbook.”
Perhaps the biggest sign of Sessions’ desperation came after Trump tried to squash him this past weekend. Sessions actually snapped back at the president after months and months of serving as his personal punching bag. Trump has made fun of his accent and law school, called him stupid and totally blamed him for his impeachment, among other things, but Sessions has always turned the other cheek while claiming support for the president. It’s always come off as an extremely weak calculation to not alienate himself from hardcore Trump supporters. Snapping back at Trump now would seem to indicate maybe it actually wasn’t so much about supporting the president as it was a political gamble.
Sessions’ strategy appears to have been to try to be sweet and subservient as long as possible in hopes Trump would just stay out of the race. But that strategy would indicate Sessions has learned nothing about the way his former boss operates. It’s always been a foregone conclusion Trump would enter the fray if he thought he had an opportunity to hurt Sessions’ chances of winning. The only thing that might have kept Trump from endorsing Tuberville would have been a 20-point Sessions lead in the polls, simply because the president wouldn’t want to back a loser.
He’ll almost assuredly dance on Sessions’ grave if Tuberville wins and take as much credit as possible for crushing his former AG’s comeback. Right now Sessions should just be glad Trump decided to accuse MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough of murder, or that might have ended up in a Twitter rant against Jeff. Maybe playing nice did earn him some slack from POTUS after all.
I really don’t know how much Trump’s endorsement helps Tuberville or his attacks hurt Sessions, because one thing Alabamians proved in the last Senate race is we’re not simply going to vote in the guy Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell say we should. If that were the case, Big Luther Strange would currently be setting land-speed records for unethical behavior as our incumbent senator. Instead, somehow the reddest of the red states elected Democrat Doug Jones.
Sessions’ problem from the beginning has been exactly the fact that Alabama voters haven’t simply done what everyone thought they’d do. Jeff was supposed to blow away the competition, despite The Donald’s fury. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box.
Many political pundits confuse an incumbent’s re-electability with their popularity. While I have no doubt Jeff Sessions easily would have been re-elected had he never left his Senate seat to work for Trump, it’s also doubtful he’d have faced anyone in the primary and probably not in the general. His popularity hasn’t been tested in a long time.
In 20 years as a U.S. Senator, Sessions was always a back-bencher never in danger of taking a primary leadership role. And that’s all fine when Richard Shelby is the porkiest porkster who ever porked a pork, but Shelby is getting “up there,” even for an organization that’s seen it’s fair share of 90-somethings still doddering onto the floor to cast votes.
Tuberville at least presents a fresh face and a charismatic approach to campaigning. Certainly when I’ve seen him campaigning around town — something I haven’t personally seen Sessions doing — Tubby has been as energetic as any candidate could be without the help of PEDs (Politically Enhancing Drugs).
Voters know what they get with Sessions — a guy who’ll go back to his spot in the Senate talking about immigration, China and Justice Department issues, but probably won’t be on point when it comes to bringing home the pork or COVID-19 relief.
But hey, I’m glad to see the new, feisty Jeff Sessions show up, even if it is late in the game. Maybe he’ll actually speak his mind about what went on in the DOJ, and I’m all for a debate or two between he and Tubby. At the very least maybe he won’t just lie there and get kicked in the ribs until we all just look away out of disgust.
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