Unless he’s standing alongside Nick Saban at a White House Rose Garden ceremony celebrating another national championship for the Crimson Tide, President Donald Trump mentioning Alabama is likely something to be wary of.
Last week, as West Virginia voters were preparing to head to the polls for primary elections, Trump warned Republicans there to reject Don Blankenship, a candidate running for the U.S. Senate.
You might recall Blankenship as the mining company CEO who was convicted of mine-safety violations and spent a year in federal prison. The conviction stemmed from a 2010 disaster that killed 29 miners. Also, Blankenship’s main residence appears to be a Las Vegas mansion, which is a long way from the mountains of West Virginia. Oh, and for some insane reason, he referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch.”
So, all in all, not exactly the perfect candidate to face incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November’s general election.
That was just the point Trump made on Twitter last Monday. “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!” Trump tweeted.
In this case, “Remember Alabama” meant, “Don’t put an unappealing Republican on the ballot against a Democrat.”
The president was referring to Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election in 2017. Jeff Sessions left the seat vacant after becoming U.S. attorney general. In the Alabama Republican primary for the seat, Trump endorsed Luther Strange, a former lobbyist and Gov. Robert Bentley’s selection as interim senator. Alabama Republican primary voters had different ideas, however. They picked Roy Moore, the controversial judge who had twice been effectively removed from a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court after defying a federal court order.
In the general election, Moore faced Doug Jones, a Democrat and former U.S. prosecutor. The campaign was dominated by well-sourced allegations that Moore engaged in improper sexual conduct with several women who said he pursued them when they were in their teens and he was in his early 30s. The Washington Post’s reporting on these allegations earned it a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer judges described the Post’s work as “purposeful and relentless reporting that changed the course of a Senate race in Alabama by revealing a candidate’s alleged past sexual harassment of teenage girls and subsequent efforts to undermine the journalism that exposed it.”
Major Republican leaders must still have nightmares over their late 2017 options: (a.) encourage the election of baggage-laden Moore or (b.) stay silent and watch an extremely safe Republican seat go to a Democrat.
Trump picked Option A. In the days before the election, he tweeted: “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”
Trump’s support wasn’t enough to elect Moore. Jones became the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in more than 20 years. It seems nearly certain that Strange would have easily beaten Jones in December if only Big Luther could have beaten Moore.
West Virginia’s Republican voters Tuesday soundly rejected Blankenship, meaning Trump and other national Republicans won’t be forced into campaigning for an ex-con coal baron this fall.
And now one final note.
This will be my last column as editor/publisher of The Star. I’ve accepted a job as executive director of High Plains Public Radio, a network of NPR stations across parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. I start there in early June.
I’m proud of the work The Star has done over my nearly 15 years here. Each day the paper’s staff works hard to serve our community, delivering news that is fair, accurate and in its proper context. Of course, we’re not perfect, but without The Star’s journalists here to record the triumphs and the challenges of our community, this place would be less than it could be.
I’ve also been fortunate to make friends with wonderful people whom I will miss very much.
With that, I will thank you for reading the paper, and close by promising to heed the president’s words. I will “Remember Alabama.”