MOBILE, Ala.—Outside the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday night, a man stood holding a sign.
Under the word “MOORE,” it read “Make America Great Again” and “Yes,” in big, bold red white and blue letters. Under “STRANGE,” it said “Mitch,” and “No,” in a faint gray scrawl. This was outside a rally where President Trump was scheduled to campaign for one of the candidates in Alabama’s special Senate election—and it wasn’t Roy Moore.
Like a dubious nutrition label designed to satisfy FDA requirements while convincing shoppers that their granola bars are all-natural, the sign outside the Huntsville rally didn’t exactly lie. It just elided the truth. And it’s a perfect snapshot of the mindset in Alabama right now, where Moore, the ultra-conservative judge made famous by his crusade to keep a monument to the 10 Commandments displayed at the state’s supreme court, is running against Senator Luther Strange in the race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s old seat, for which Strange was appointed as the seat-warmer. Strange, a remarkably tall but otherwise not particularly distinctive former state attorney general, is the establishment pick.
The election has become a showcase for high levels of cognitive dissonance. It’s an election in which the candidate who is benefiting from $10 million from a Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC promises from the rally stage to keep McConnell in check in the Senate. Where Trump, there to campaign for said candidate, muses aloud about whether he’s made a mistake in doing so and promises to campaign for the opponent in the general election, should he win. Where a reporter for Breitbart, which has gone all-in to support Moore, alleged he was denied entry to the Trump-Strange rally. Where the president’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon, weeks after leaving the White House, is making a rare public appearance at a Moore event on Monday after weeks of using Breitbart as a pro-Moore, anti-Strange political instrument.