Jeff Sessions — former Alabama Attorney General, former U.S. Senator, former U.S. Attorney General, a man who is as plugged in to Alabama politics as it is possible to be — recently got curb-stomped in a Republican primary run-off by a former football coach who is not even from Alabama. What happened?
Analysts looking at it from the outside offered the easy one-liner explanation, “Well, Trump attacked Sessions and endorsed his opponent, so therefore, etc., etc.”
As an Alabamian myself, I don’t think the word “Alabamian” is a synonym for “goober,” so I don’t think an explanation this simplistic really captures the whole story. I think most people are more sophisticated in their voting decisions than political analysts give them credit for, and Alabama voters are no different.
So what happened when a guy who basically had a guaranteed lifetime Senate seat before Trump, and who was an early supporter of Trump in a state that he won by thirty points in 2016, couldn’t make it past the runoff in 2020?
Sessions was one of the first major figures to recognize Trump as a viable candidate. When he first endorsed Trump for president, I thought that years of being ignored on immigration reform had driven him insane. And then Trump won, and he looked like the first guy to invest in Bitcoin.
But Sessions was also one of the first major figures to fail to recognize the reason Trump was a viable candidate. Sessions thought we were still operating inside a sane political system, and Trump was popular because of his stand on the issues within that framework. But it turned out that we were in a system that had gone insane, and Trump was the public’s desperate attempt at shock thereapy.
So, when the #Resistance started screaming about Russian collusion, Sessions did what an honorable man in a sane system would do — he recused himself from the investigation to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, assuming in good faith that there would be an honest investigation that would clear everything up.
Of course, no such honest investigation was forthcoming, and without Sessions in a position to ride herd on the process, what we got instead was two and a half years of public bathroom graffiti masquerading as evidence, giving Democrats and the news media a free pass to say whatever they wanted about Trump and his allies.
Alabama voters understand that this epic misread by Sessions opened the door for the “Russia collusion” chaos that followed. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself speaks well of his character, but it also identifies him as someone who may be a little too optimistic about the political fight in which we find ourselves. People standing against the progressive agenda need to be filled less with benefit of the doubt and more with just plain, old doubt.
Will Tuberville be any better? It’s impossible to say. But he’s not an old-school Senate lifer, so at least there’s reason to hope. Sessions would’ve been a perfectly capable Senator, but his failure to throw a wrench in the Democratic machine when he had the chance cost him the trust of a lot of voters. And the voters are paying attention to more than just Trump’s latest tweet.