Earlier this month, former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, violated Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
During a campaign stop in the Shoals region of the state, Tuberville took issue with President Donald Trump’s handling of veterans’ affairs, which, according to some veterans, remains subpar despite Trump having pledged improvements if elected president.
“I’m pissed off at Donald Trump that our vets can’t get healthcare,” Tuberville said to the Shoals Republican Club on Aug. 3. “And if I ever get to see him, I’m going to tell him that. You said you were going to fix it and it ain’t fixed. And that’s who we ought to be taking care of — these young men and women. I’ve had them come up to me and cry. ‘Coach, we can’t get healthcare. Nobody will take care of us.’ Twenty-two vets every day – every day – are committing suicide. We can’t take care of them. We won’t take care of them.”
Those remarks raised eyebrows for two reasons. First of which was because Tuberville dared to criticize the current commander-in-chief, who remains very popular among Republicans in Alabama. The second reason, and perhaps why it caught the attention of some national media, is that it offered the opportunity to show there are cracks in the GOP’s support for Trump.
Almost immediately, State Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, reacted to Tuberville’s remarks by taking to social media to condemn them.
“Coach Tuberville is a good man, but he’s dead wrong about President Trump,” Mooney tweeted on Aug. 5. “Nobody loves our veterans more than Trump. Blaming Trump for veterans’ suicides is wrong. Coach Tuberville owes our president an apology.”
Mooney, who trails Tuberville by a significant margin according to the early polling, has continued to question the contest’s front-runner for his comments.
“President Trump is under attack on all fronts and, you know, here in our state we have Tommy Tuberville stab him in the back about veterans,” he said a few days later in a radio interview. “If Tommy were to simply say, ‘I made a mistake,’ apologize and move on – well, that’d be great. But that’s not happening. And what’s happening is we’re giving to the Democrats a gift to them to hurt our president. It’s an insult to our president.”
Perhaps Mooney is right strategically, but if there were ever just cause to violate Reagan’s 11th Commandment and dare criticize the presidency of Donald Trump within the borders of Alabama, asking if the federal government is doing all it can do to give our military vets proper care is that.
The reaction to Tuberville’s comments also seems to be based on the easily disproven assumption that Trump is infallible in the eyes of Alabama Republicans. If that were the case, Luther Strange would still be a U.S. Senator, and Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne would have long been jettisoned to the Buck’s Pocket home for defeated and retired politicians.
That is not to say Republicans are clamoring for someone to relentlessly attack the big bad orange man who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There is a healthy balance, despite the efforts to malign Alabama GOP voters as brain-dead followers who are easily captivated by the cult of personality. Unfortunately, that is the assumption upon which many of our elites operate on both the Republican and Democrat sides.
Yes, Alabama is a pro-Trump state. And yes, it is not a good idea to criticize the commander-in-chief without a good reason. But you cannot run for a major statewide office in Alabama solely on the claim of being the “Trumpiest” of a Republican field and be successful.
Ironically, the challenge to the Trump-size-fits-all theorem came from Tuberville, whose entry in the race was spurred by his ability to out-MAGA any other contender.
As someone whose father died in the Birmingham VA Medical Center in the summer of 2017, and has seen the conditions of VA hospitals from one side of the country to the other, there is a lot of work left to be done for veterans’ healthcare.
Even if it means criticizing Trump by reminding the people the buck stops at the Oval Office, you cannot go wrong politically if it is a call for improving the status quo of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This is not the issue to use to try to drive a wedge between Tommy Tuberville and Trump-supporting Republicans.
However, discussing military veterans and the federal agency designated to ensure they receive their benefits is a much better and useful one to have than any of the other usual topics that traditionally come up on the campaign trail in Alabama.
After all, we could be talking about Confederate monuments, candidates’ sexuality and their unwillingness to participate in political debates or any other triviality that seems to matter more to the woke class and the media than the public at large.
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