The media aren’t mentioning at least two key reasons former Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore unseated appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the recent special Republican U.S. Senate run-off election. And, it’s not just the traditional media commentators that are glossing over the points because I haven’t heard them mentioned on Fox News, either.
The typical analysis focuses on President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support for Strange and covers the result as a big loss for them, while alluding to other such Republican primary challenges on the political horizon.
In McConnell’s case, the defeat is a stinging one because he went in strong for Strange and was largely responsible for the appointed Senator outspending his victorious opponent by a 4-to-1 ratio. Now he is forced to eat political crow and quietly marshal support for Moore because he can’t afford to lose the seat in the general election.
Actually, McConnell has such experience. He vociferously opposed Rand Paul when he first ran for Senate in his own state of Kentucky back in 2010, and the Republican leader’s candidate was roundly defeated in the party primary just like in Alabama. But, he quickly embraced Paul and the two have a strong relationship today. He may try this approach with Moore, but the judge’s response may not be as magnanimous as was Paul’s.
But is Strange’s defeat really a loss for Trump? After all, Moore’s political base is really the one that most strongly supports Trump, and the one place where the president appeared to support Strange, Huntsville (Madison County), actually turned toward the incumbent when the votes were cast even though pre-election surveys suggested it would go the other way. Statewide, the polls were correct. Moore was predicted to win with a double-digit margin, and he did. Therefore, in the one community where he personally appeared, Trump may well have had a positive effect for Strange.
Keeping in mind that the so-called “Washington swamp” became a focal point for Moore’s campaign, and he used McConnell as the symbol of political morass instead of a leading Democrat such as Hillary Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Strange began in a situation from which it was hard to extricate himself. It pertains to the way he obtained the Senate appointment.
Because this is a complicated story and Alabama specific, the media don’t mention it as a reason for his downfall, but the swamp-like way in which Strange wrangled the Senate appointment reinforced the perceived dirty dealing in American politics and placed the new incumbent immediately behind the figurative 8 ball in terms of public perception.
Let’s recap: when Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, was confirmed as U.S. attorney general, he resigned his Senate seat. This allowed Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, to name a replacement and schedule a subsequent special election from which the winner would serve the remaining four-years of the term Sessions won in 2014.
This is where the controversy begins. Bentley was under pressure for an extra-marital affair that involved him using state resources, i.e., flying his partner in the state airplane among other expenditures, and his own Republican legislature was developing a movement to impeach him. Luther Strange was the state’s attorney general who was making it clear he wanted to be a senator. He made public statements saying he would run no matter who received the appointment, but would accept an appointment if Bentley so chose.
He then reportedly went to the Republican majority leadership in the Alabama House and Senate and asked them to refrain from pursuing impeachment until his investigation of the situation concluded. Bentley responded by duly appointing Strange, which provided him the added (and most important) benefit of appointing a new attorney general who would head the investigation of himself. Bentley also made the special election concurrent with the regular 2018 calendar, thus giving Strange almost two years in office before facing the electorate even though Alabama election law calls for an immediate vote.
The controversy became more heated when Strange, after receiving the appointment, befuddled everyone by claiming that he never said he was investigating the governor. This literally left the state House speaker and Senate president speechless.
As events unfolded, an investigation was of course moving forward and Bentley would soon agree to a plea bargain that included resigning the governor’s office in exchange for not going to prison. The new governor, Kay Ivey, knowing the state would lose a pending lawsuit over the special election placement, soon changed the election schedule to the one currently in progress.
Therefore, Strange’s perceived chicanery in obtaining the Senate appointment was the major reason he could never get untracked politically, and prodded a candidate like Moore to enter the race. Strange looked as though he was jumping into the dreaded political swamp with both feet and quickly became a dishonorable member in good standing.
And now, as the late radio great Paul Harvey used to say, “You know the rest of the story.”