The Ongoing Trials of Sessions

President Donald Trump is still tormenting his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which is entirely unsurprising but the biggest non-coronavirus story we could find in the news this week.
Then-Alabama Sen. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump’s seemingly quixotic campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and a time when the rest of the party’s elected and officials and other establishments were desperately hoping to nominate almost anyone else. His campaigning on Trump’s behalf helped win over a lot of the fiscal and religious conservatives who had been suspicious of the former Democrat and outspoken abortion rights advocate from New York City, and when Trump somehow won the general election Sessions was rewarded with the Attorney General gig, despite a lack of any apparent qualifications other than his loyalty.
Not long after Trump took office, though, the Justice Department announced an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government’s apparent attempts to hack e-mails and sponsor internet information in order to help Trump. Because Sessions ha been a prominent member of the campaign, and he and other campaign staff had some arguably innocent interactions with Russians that he denied during congressional testimony, he recused himself from any role in the investigation. it was the ethical thing to do, and probably smart politics given the doubts that any decisions he might have would prompted, but Trump was furious.
Trump wanted the investigations quashed at the beginning, and believed that an Attorney General’s job is to protect him rather than pursue justice without favoritism, and made Session’s life as miserable as possible. Trump “tweeted” schoolyard taunts against Sessions, pilloried him during televised news conferences, and in private conversations with other administrations likened sessions to the diminutive and nearly-blind and constantly blundering cartoon character Mr. Magoo. Although he had neither the guts nor a plausible reason for outright firing Sessions, who was pursuing White policies diligently, Trump was clearly intent on forcing a resignation.
That’s what eventually happened, and Sessions was replaced by Attorney General William Barr, who has proved more willing to protect the president at all costs.
Sessions was still popular in Alabama, where he probably could have held his Senate seat until his dying day if he hadn’t loyally accepted Trump’s offer of the Attorney General job, so he went back to the welcoming arms of his home state and bided his until the next senatorial election. All of Trump’s “tweeting” and pillorying had somewhat weakened Sessions standing, though, and after a crowded primary election Sessions wound up in a run-off against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville slated for July 14. Sessions campaigned on the argument that he’d been an early supporter of Trump — who is also quite popular in the state — and remained a loyal advocate for the “Make America Great Again agenda, but Trump values loyalty to himself more than loyalty to his ever-shifting policies, and he endorsed Tuberville, who was also fully on board and already had a sizable following in the football-crazy state.
Sessions has continued to campaign as “Trump’s #1 supporter,” but the the Trump reelection has campaign has sent him a cease-and-desist letter about it, saying the claim is “delusional.” This looks bad to us, as it seems quite petty on Trump’s part and clearly implies that any true Trump supporter would have gladly obstructed justice on the president’s behalf, but a majority of Alabama’s Republican voters might well see it differently. When Alabama had a special election to fill the state’s Senate after Sessions left for the Justice Department, a majority of Alabama’s Republican voters nominated Roy Moore, an unabashed theocrat who had been kicked off the Supreme Court of Alabama for defying federal and had a number of women coming forward to describe his very creepy behavior when he was in his 30s and they were in their teens. He was such an awful candidate despite Trump’s endorsement and ardent campaigning and ample campaign contributions the Red Sea parted and a moderate Democrat named Doug Jones won a statewide election for the for the first time in decades.
Alabama is still as red as the Crimson Tide, though, and Jones is considered the Democrat’s most vulnerable incumbent in November. Tuberville might or might not have much going for him except a winning record at Auburn and Trump’s endorsement, as we don’t follow Alabama politics closely enough to say, but from this distance he doesn’t seem nearly so awful as Moore, so he’d likely be the frontrunner in a general election. Sessions would be, too, though, as Alabamans has long considered a good public servant who put principle above politicians, and although it goes against off his prideful instincts Trump would be wise to support a Sessions nomination if it happens.
These days every story has a coronavirus angle, however, and at this point it’s not clear if Alabama will be able to have a run-off election on July 14. The Alabama Republican Party could decide to postpone it until hopefully happier days, or have everyone vote by mail or on-line or some other socially-distanced, or just have the party establishment pick a nominee, and there’s no telling which candidate that would benefit.
The other coronavirus angle is that such a petty and impetuous and unprincipled president as Trump is in charge of that horror show. Even in Alabama, Jones might be able to make some hay of that by Election Day, if that happens.

— Bud Norman

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