Mo Brooks’ Demise Illustrates Trump’s grip on power is firm, at least in Alabama.
Rep. Mo Brooks stood before the audience only a few hundred yards from the Washington Monument in the hours leading up to the turmoil that erupted on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, and asked whether they were prepared to sacrifice their lives in the service of freedom. “Today is the day that American patriots begin bringing down names and kicking ass,” said the Alabama Republican, who was dressed in a MAGA-red “Fire Pelosi” baseball cap and body gear.
Many of the people at the pro-Donald Trump gathering at the Ellipse had overrun the Capitol, laid siege to politicians, and breached the building’s defenses for the first time since 1814 a few hours later. Soon after, Brooks joined over 140 colleagues in voting against Joe Biden’s election being certified. However, Brooks’ actions earlier in the day enraged many of his colleagues, causing some to consider taking the unusual step of removing Brooks from the House. Brooks doubled on, asking for a national forensic audit of the election and clinging to unsubstantiated claims that Antifa was partially to blame for the Jan. 6 violence.
Nonetheless, 14 months later, Trump withdrew his support for Brooks to represent Alabama in the Senate, claiming that Brooks had become “woke” and was no longer supportive of his Big Lie. Trump might have been reacting to Brooks’s ability to lose a 44-point lead in the GOP primary. In the end, the several time’s Brooks bent over himself to placate Trump proved futile.
Such is the ephemeral character of Trump’s leadership of the Republican Party: support is never lasting, whims drive strategy, and complaints transcend facts. Nonetheless, it is currently one of the most potent forces of American politics. And nowhere is this more evident than in Alabama, where Trump has decided its Senate representation more regularly and, at times, more successfully than any other state.
A short rundown of Trump’s involvement in Alabama thus far: He plucked its incumbent senator to serve as attorney general, a tortured tenure that resulted in summary dismissal; he then waded into a fraught, messy race to fill the seat, which ended up in Democratic hands for the first time in over 20 years; he successfully campaigned against that aforementioned attorney general’s attempt to return to the Senate; and then he endorsed and un-endorsed Brooks before backing his opponent, who on Tuesday night won the nomination and, wi
In other words, Trump’s gut-based endorsements and overpowering desire to be perceived as a winner may have a greater influence on Alabama voting habits than any precinct in Huntsville, Birmingham, or Montgomery. His clout stood in stark contrast to the outcome in Georgia on Tuesday night, where Republican voters rejected Trump’s nominees for two House seats. If Robert Penn Warren anointed fictitious Willie Stark as king of an unspecified Southern state, then Trump may be the real-life kingmaker in Alabama.
Of course, Alabama is an unusual setting for Trump to demonstrate his political savvy. Trump, a New Yorker who now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., usually appears as out of place as possible when he visits the state. Nonetheless, Republican voters in the area are hanging on his every word.
Trump’s political links to Alabama date back to February 2016, when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions became the first sitting senator to endorse his presidential campaign, just days before Alabama participated in Super Tuesday. Sessions expanded his role as an informal campaign adviser and, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also assisted Trump in navigating his promises on Supreme Court nominees—a move that helped Trump win over skeptical Evangelicals who didn’t like the thrice-married New Yorker but saw potential in reshaping the Court to overturn abortion rights. Sessions were even considered as a possible running mate for Trump at one point.
When it came time for the president-elect to appoint an attorney general, Sessions fit right in. Several of his top aides have already joined the transition team, including its executive director, a Sessions chief of staff. And Sessions agreed with Trump on immigration, a vital component that Trump’s campaign hoped would keep his coalition together. (Instead, Trump used his first attorney general as a punching bag before firing him.)
Sessions’ departure from the Senate in early 2017 cleared the path for Luther Strange, the state attorney general at the time, who had previously stated his intention to compete for the seat whether or not he was appointed.
Trump had different ideas. Despite the fact that Strange was a consistent supporter of Trump’s agenda and had never directly challenged the president, Trump was unsure if Strange was the proper choice. White House advisers intervened and persuaded Trump to support Strange in both the primary and the runoff. Brooks, who was running in the same campaign as McConnell, was confident McConnell and his crew had misled Trump and stated as much. Nonetheless, Strange fell short in the runoff against Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court judge whose record included putting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and courthouse, as well as asking jurors to pray.
Republicans in Washington advised against doing business with Moore, who was accused of sexual assault and courting teenagers when in his 30s. Despite this, Trump embraced Moore and campaigned for him. Moore would go on to lose by 1.6 points to former civil rights prosecutor Doug Jones in a state Trump had won by 28 points a year earlier.
When it came time for Jones to run for re-election in 2020, Trump chose to play ball once more. He waited until the runoff to support Tommy Tuberville, a retired Auburn football coach, in his effort to unseat Sessions. Trump’s former attorney general attempted to reconcile with Trump, but the president refused and moved to support Tuberville, who would later try to help Trump’s Big Lie triumph during his first days in the Senate.
This takes us to this week’s runoff election. Trump initially supported Brooks. After all, Brooks had adopted Trump’s fear about election fraud, even sleeping in his Capitol Hill office to avoid returning home, where he felt he might face a grave danger from people working against the former president. Mo Brooks’ Twitter handle was “Mo Brooks — Endorsed By President Trump,” and his campaign literature referred to him as “MAGA Mo.”
But, as the repercussions from January 6 became clearer, Brooks began to lose credibility in Trump’s eyes. Brooks dared to suggest that Republicans should look beyond the 2020 elections. He declared that the certification on Jan. 6, 2021, would be the final word on the elections and claimed there was nothing Congress could do to “reinstate” Trump, who continues to argue that this is still a possibility. Trump withdrew his support even as Brooks declined to appear before the panel probing the Jan. 6 incident.
Brooks denied being “woke,” and he is correct. He allegedly cheered on the mob and, in recent weeks, attempted to re-enter Trump’s good graces. When it failed, he accused the former president of being disloyal.
Trump did not flinch. He backed Katie Britt, a former chief of staff to retiring Senator Richard Shelby. Britt and her husband wisely sought up meetings with Trump, who appeared pleased by Britt’s spouse, a former NFL star. Brooks and Britt fought to a tie in the May 24 primary, forcing a runoff on Tuesday, which Britt won by 26 points.
The outcomes were hardly surprising. Brooks had already associated himself with Trump, mistakenly expecting that devotion would be rewarded. Brooks ran an inconsistent campaign, according to all accounts, while Britt—a Hill veteran turned lobbyist—campaigned as an outsider. She will be the Senate’s youngest woman at 40, and she might keep the post for decades. Which, of course, sounds fairly enticing whether you’re a Trump looking to leave a legacy or a Trump motivated just by revenge.