Representative Mo Brooks, a conservative congressman who’s polling in third in the primary, pronounced himself “baffled” by Trump’s position. “All of this is very paradoxical, because on the one hand, President Trump vigorously complains about Mitch McConnell not getting the job done in the United States Senate,” Brooks told me. “But on the other hand, the president endorses Mitch McConnell’s boy in this Senate race.”
I asked Brooks if he thought the president was confused. “There seems to be great inconsistency in positions and hoped-for outcomes,” he said. “I think the president made a major mistake in endorsing Luther Strange.”
Big Luther came loping into a meeting room at a Birmingham-area public library on Thursday night, panting slightly and apologizing for having kept everybody waiting. A lanky six-foot-nine, Strange’s head seems too small for his massive body, and he had a slightly panicked look on his bland, pale face. He wasn’t actually late for his turn to speak to the executive committee of the Jefferson County Republicans, but having, unlike the other candidates, arrived after the meeting began, he didn’t know that.
Each candidate had been allotted five minutes to speak, and the others had rushed to pack their time with as much red meat as possible—reciting their long political resumes, articulating their many conservative policy stances, explaining at length their claim to be the best choice. Strange didn’t do any of that.
He pointed out that he was from the area—he had, he said, been hit by a car a block from this very spot as a child. He thanked the voters and thanked his opponents. And then he recounted his momentous phone call from Trump.
The president, he said, had thanked him for his loyalty and support and offered his help in return. “I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, whatever you think is appropriate—a tweet wouldn’t be bad!’ He said, ‘You know I have 118 million Twitter followers.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, I’m very well aware of that.’”
There were chuckles from the crowd, a few dozen, mostly elderly, well-dressed white people on folding chairs. “I can’t say anything much more than what the president himself has said,” Strange said. “The president needs somebody who will work with him, who has his back. I’m going to be working as closely as I possibly can with the president to get his agenda passed as long as I’m in the U.S. Senate.” He had, he said, spoken to Trump again today, and the president had reiterated his support.
In conclusion, Strange said he guessed his time was probably about up. Not so, said the timekeeper—he had two more minutes remaining. But the senator didn’t have anything more to say. He left the stage and headed for the door.
In the hallway, Strange said he agreed with the president’s criticism of McConnell—“I don’t know why we’re taking a vacation,” he said. “We should be working to pass the president’s agenda.” Did he think, then, that McConnell should be replaced, I asked? No, he replied—McConnell was not the problem. “We don’t have 50 conservative Republican votes, and I don’t think Mitch McConnell or anybody else can make John McCain or the two ladies that voted the other way vote against their perceived interest.”