Donald Trump’s final “thank you” tour rally this weekend was the first time Mobile, Alabama, hosted a president-elect for a major political event.
Over the years, many presidents have visited the city, but it has been nearly a decade since the last presidential visit. In 2007, then-President George W. Bush spoke at a fundraiser for Sen. Jeff Sessions at the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center. That was hardly the spectacle we saw Saturday.
While the city has hosted presidents, it has never hosted a president-elect. In 1860, the city came close, when Stephen A. Douglas spent the election night he lost to Abraham Lincoln at the Battle House Hotel.
So, why would Trump choose Mobile as the finale for his “thank you” tour?
Because if there were a contest for the most pro-Trump state, Alabama likely would win.
Of course the state went for Trump in the general election. It always goes Republican. Alabama Trumpism, however, goes deeper than simply GOP support. In the Republican presidential primary back in March, every county in the state went for Trump. He won it by 22 points over his closest competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — the greatest margin of any Super Tuesday states that went Republican in the general election.
Two of his bigger rallies during the campaign were held in Alabama — in Mobile and in Madison. The Mobile rally in August 2015 was one that arguably kicked off the entire large-crowd phenomenon that candidate Trump enjoyed over the ensuing 15 months.
Indeed, while Trump’s decision to hold a final rally in Mobile made sense, it was also an outlier. All of the president-elect’s other stops on his post-election tour were in swing states. Alabama, however, has not gone blue since the 1976 presidential election when it picked then-Democratic Gov. Jimmy Carter over incumbent President Gerald Ford.
As far as political identity, if there were a textbook definition of modern Alabama Republicanism, it would closely resemble Trumpism.
Obviously the president-elect identifies with Sen. Jeff Sessions. The pair were closely allied during the presidential race and Trump has tapped Sessions to be the next attorney general. Much like Trump, Sessions is an anti-illegal immigration hawk. Sessions’ position on the issue is similar to that of the rest of the state Republican Party.
When Republicans took control of Montgomery in 2010 for the first time in 136 years, the first item the state Legislature passed was HB 56 — at the time the country’s toughest immigration law.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach authored the law. Kobach is reportedly in line for a job with the Trump administration.
Ultimately, the law did not pass muster in the federal courts. In retrospect, however, the attempt — based on what the president-elect has said on the campaign trail — was Trumpian in its ultimate aim.
One of the knocks on Trump from within the Republican Party and the conservative movement is that he does not adhere to conservative values, hence the “Never Trump” movement. It is true that he isn’t an ideologue. But neither are many of the Republicans holding statewide office in Alabama.
Although he talked a good game about conservatism during his primary contest, Sen. Richard Shelby is better known for his ability to bring in federal money for the state and regularly boasts about it in his press releases.
Trump took it to another level on Saturday in Mobile, when he came close to sounding like Barack Obama circa early 2009.
“We are also going to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure and boy does it need it,” Trump said on Saturday. “It needs it. We have spent $6 trillion in the Middle East. We could have rebuilt our country three times over … I’m asking Congress to support the construction of new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways all across this nation. And we will put our people back to work. It’s time to help get Americans off of welfare and back into the labor market, rebuilding this country with American hands by American workers.”
Trump had his detractors among Republican politicos throughout the state. Many of the so-called GOP establishment figures rallied behind Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida during the campaign. Gov. Robert Bentley was part of the 4 percent that supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the primary.
We also recall Reps. Bradley Byrne and Martha Roby calling on Trump to vacate the nomination after a more-than-a-decade-old audio clip of Trump surfaced of him boasting about his escapades with women. (You have to wonder if either of them would like to have a redo on making that decision.)
In the end, none of that mattered.
When historians write books about this past election, look for Alabama and Sessions to play an evident role.
As presidential politics go, Trump will have some good and likely some very bad days. But if he ever needs a pick-me-up during his presidency, an event in Alabama might do the trick as most of the people here seem to love him.