Discarded from the Trump administration, Jeff Sessions is entrenched as the fulcrum on which Alabama’s most important political decisions of 2020 will pivot.
Sessions, President Trump’s erstwhile attorney general, might seek to regain his former U.S. Senate seat. Or he might not. He’s nearly 72, after all.
If Sessions runs for the Republican nomination, he could face a formidable row of challengers, including state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and U.S. Reps. Gary Palmer, R-Birmingham, and Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, that would create a made-for-TV GOP primary featuring star power and the all-powerful Trump influence in an overwhelmingly Trump-friendly state. Or that trio could step aside and let Sessions sail through to face Sen. Doug Jones, whose victory in last December’s special election against Roy Moore gave Alabama its first elected Democrat in the Senate since 1984.
“There could be a real reset,” Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama Republican Party, told Politico this week, “and folks who were thinking about running could take a second look.”
If Sessions doesn’t run, will Marsh? Will Palmer? Will Byrne? Those answers, we assume, would be yes, yes and yes.
“I think there are a number of potential candidates that will want to understand what Attorney General Sessions' intentions are with respect to the race before they make any decisions,” Clay Ryan, chief lobbyist for the University of Alabama, told Politico. Sessions, Ryan said, owned an “unofficial first right of first refusal” on the GOP nomination for that Senate seat.
In all of that -- the indecision, the deliciousness of a Sessions vs. Marsh and Co. GOP primary, the thought of Trump actively campaigning for Sessions’ primary opponent -- there should be only one overarching concern:
What is best for Alabama?
That’s not a rhetorical question. Jones gives Alabama politics one of its biggest needs -- a Southern Democrat’s moderate voice for a state that illustrates why one-party politics aren’t constructive. Jones, however, faces a steep re-election challenge because (a.) he won’t face Moore in 2020; (b.) he’s a Democrat; and (c.), Republicans crave Jones’ Senate seat in a bid to strengthen their hold on the upper chamber.
Sessions’ 21 months as U.S. attorney general ripped away the cover shrouding the true nature of Alabama’s former junior senator. His tough-on-crime veneer is mixed with reprehensible doses of xenophobia and racial stereotypes. Plus, the fact that he hitched his career to the legacy of an immoral, destructive, irredeemable president can’t be overlooked. In Washington, Sessions is no longer simply a former Alabama senator. He’s Trump’s first congressional ally, his hand-picked attorney general and the face of the United States’ inhuman immigration policy that separated children from their mothers.
Alabamians should be shocked if Sessions doesn’t try to regain his former Senate seat. We certainly will be. But the baggage Sessions now carries would do Alabama no favors should he return to Congress. What’s best for Alabama is a senator unscarred by Trump’s touch and willing to lead with compassion, conviction and intelligence.