There are weird goings on in the state of Alabama. When Jeff Sessions was picked by Donald Trump to be attorney general, his senate seat fell vacant. Governor Robert Bentley picked the state attorney general Luther Strange (whom Trump keeps referring to as ‘big Luther Strange’) to replace him with a special election to be held along with the 2018 elections in November. But then Bentley had to resign in April because of a tawdry sex scandal (of course) and his successor Kay Ivey brought the special election forward to December 12 of this year, with the primary to be held on August 15 and in the event that no candidate got mote than 50% of the vote, a run-off to be held next Tuesday on September 26.
On the Democratic side, Doug Jones won outright but on the Republican side, Strange and Roy Moore are in a run-off. And this is where things get weird, even by Alabama standards. Strange is pretty much a Sessions clone politically, meaning that he is your standard issue Republican who holds extreme right-wing anti-women, anti-LGBT, and anti-immigrant attitudes. But even that is not wacko enough for Alabama Republicans and Roy Moore seeks to outflank Strange on the right, if you can imagine it.
Moore is a real piece of work. He ran for the position of chief justice of the state supreme court in 2001 and won and then proceeded to commission and install a granite Ten Commandments in the court house. When a federal judge ordered it to be removed, he refused and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed him from office. After two failed runs for the governor, Moore was again elected chief justice in 2013 but was suspended from that position in 2016 because he ordered the state probate judges to defy the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage by withholding marriage licenses.
Moore dials the religious crazy way beyond 11. Among other things, he thinks that 9/11 may have been his god’s punishment for the sins of America. But wait, there’s more!
The central argument of Moore’s campaign is that removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. Among the prices he says this country has paid for denying God’s supremacy: the high murder rate in Chicago, crime on the streets of Washington, child abuse, rape and sodomy. It’s a crisis he hopes to address next year from the floor of the Senate.
The last 50 years, Moore argued, has witnessed the tragic removal of God from public life, from schools, from government, that was never intended under the Constitution’s establishment clause. “There is no such thing as evolution,” he explained at one point as he waited for his lunch. Species might adapt to their environment, he continued, but that has nothing to do with the origins of life described in the Bible. “That we came from a snake?” he asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t believe that.”
Given that we are talking about Alabama, it is a safe bet that whoever wins the Republican primary will win the election on December 12, so much interest is focused on the outcome of the runoff on Tuesday. Moore led Strange by 38.9% to 32.8% in the first round of the primary and is also leading by margins of around 10% in the latest polling. Given that he has had a very high-profile and won two statewide elections for chief justice, and that the third place finisher endorsed him, he seems likely to win the run-off.
I think it is safe to say that the national Republican party is not thrilled with having Moore join them in the senate. This is not because his politics are abhorrent. Those are more than hateful enough that they will fit in nicely with theirs. The problem is that he is a loose cannon who cannot be controlled by the leadership and is likely to say and do unpredictable things with little concern for the consequences. Trump himself seems to have decided to go all in behind Strange, maybe because Moore is the one person who can outdo Trump in garnering attention by saying stupid things. The election is being seen as a test of whether Trump still has clout among evangelicals who form the core of Trump’s base, but according to pollsters, they are still supporting Moore by the whopping margin of 55% to 34%. Trump is holding a rally for Strange today and the question is whether he can woo them back. The rally will be a big test for him
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin has emerged from obscurity to campaign for Moore, and Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News is also supporting him, as is crazy Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, Sean Hannity, and radio show host Laura Ingraham. In an ironic twist, they are saying that Moore can help drain the swamp in Washington, implying that Trump and Strange and have become trapped in, thanks to the machinations of permanent swamp dweller Mitch McConnell.
[F]ormer Alaska governor Sarah Palin accused the swamp — which is what Trump likes to call the Washington establishment — of trying to overpower the president.
“The forgotten man and woman in this country, they stood up, and we beat the swamp. But, alas, 10 months later, guys, the swamp, it’s trying to hijack this presidency,” said Palin, who unsuccessfully ran for vice president in 2008 and was one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement that predated the Trump movement. “The swamp is trying to steal the victory that we worked so long and hard for — to steal the victory that a lot of us put our reputations on the line for. We voted to put America first, not the political elite that had ignored us for decades.
Moore cast Strange as one of the swamp-dwellers that the president had promised to flush out of Washington, and he suggested that Trump is “being cut off in his office” and is “being redirected by people like McConnell, who does not support his agenda, who will not support his agenda in the future.”
Matt Taibbi says this contest provides a source for amusement.
God knows why Trump is backing Luther Strange. My personal theory is that it’s because Luther is tall – Trump has a thing about short people. Whatever the reason, politically it has the potential to be a massive error.
Trump may be dumb enough to think that he can elevate “big” Luther Strange to office through the sheer force of his cult of anti-personality. It’s a close call, but he’s probably wrong. The polls suggest Moore is a strong favorite to win, despite both Trump’s endorsement and McConnell’s money.
We are going to be stuck with an awful senator either way, so while there is no good outcome, we might as well enjoy the show as a form of black humor.