Yes, Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange over Roy Moore to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
But two of Trump’s key 2016 campaign allies say to forget that, saying that Strange is tainted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and $10 million in advertising muscle from a McConnell-aligned super PAC.
“They think you’re a pack of morons. They think you’re nothing but rubes,” said Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign chief executive and, until his recent ouster, White House chief strategist.
Inside a sweaty barn south of Mobile, Bannon told voters that ignoring Trump’s endorsement and voting for Moore is the way to support Trump’s agenda.
“We did not come here to defy Donald Trump. We came here to praise and honor him,” Bannon said.
A Moore win would “rejuvenate” the movement Trump started, said Nigel Farage, the British “Brexit” champion.
“This point about getting Judge Roy Moore is to help the President, isn’t it?” he said, as the crowd packed into a Southern Alabama barn shouted, “Yes!”
“Sometimes you’ve got to show tough love to your own guys,” said Tim James, the son of former Republican Gov. Bob James. Trump, James said, is “gonna think twice before he jumps in a family feud again.”
The bitter intra-party battle for the seat Sessions vacated in February comes to an end Tuesday. But a win by Moore — which national and state Republicans acknowledge is a strong possibility — would inject fuel into anti-establishment candidates’ bids to unseat several other sitting Senate Republicans.
Already, Bannon is backing Danny Tarkanian over Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada and Kelli Ward over Sen. Jeff Flake in Arizona. Republican primaries in the 10 Democratic-held Senate seats in states Trump won that are on the ballot in 2018 could see similar brawls.
It’s part of why the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund has spent $10 million in the primary to boost Strange and tear down Moore.
The other part of the McConnell camp’s calculus: Moore, who was twice ousted as state Supreme Court chief justice — once for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument, then for ignoring the US Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling — campaigns on installing Christianity at the center of American public life and rejecting LGBT rights. His long history of controversial remarks would be a fundraising boon for Democrats, and would lead to uncomfortable questions for Republican senators about whether they agree or disagree with their new colleague.
For his part, Moore seemed to be animated on the campaign trail by the spending against his relatively shoestring campaign.
“Will we send them a message? Very clear — Alabama can’t be bought,” he said Monday night. “Mitch McConnell needs to be replaced!”
The irony of the pro-Moore crowd’s insistence that he, not Strange, would be a more reliable ally, is that Moore has broken with Trump on health care — saying he’d vote against the latest GOP Obamacare repeal bill because it doesn’t fully eliminate the law.
For Trump, the fate of Strange — a reliable vote in the Senate and someone who brags about his “close, personal friendship” with the President — will demonstrate just how strongly his word can influence the outcome of GOP battles. A Strange win could ease the concerns of some other Republican lawmakers who fear primary battles.
Trump has spent heavily from his own political capital in the Alabama race. The President visited Huntsville for a raucous Friday night rally, and Vice President Mike Pence was on hand Monday night in Birmingham to close out Strange’s campaign.
Sensing the danger of McConnell’s support for Strange, Trump also called into Alabama’s “The Rick and Bubba Show” Monday morning to insist that the two senators hardly know each other.
“As you know, Mitch is not, polling-wise, the most popular guy in this country,” Trump said. “They like to label (Strange) because he happened to be there for a number of months in the Senate, so they like to label him as Mitch’s best friend but he’s not. He hardly even knows him. He’ll be fighting Mitch.”
Trump pledged Friday night in Huntsville to campaign for Moore if he won.
But in Monday’s radio interview, he warned that Moore would face a stiff fight against Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the December general election.
“Roy Moore is going to have a very hard time getting elected against the Democrat,” Trump said. “And Luther, they won’t even be fighting.”