Conservatives led by Breitbart News are waging an all-out campaign to stop a candidate backed by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell in the Alabama Senate special election — putting growing pressure on the president to step away from his endorsement.
With just over three weeks until the runoff, far-right forces are starting to close ranks around former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, an evangelical bomb-thrower who famously defied a federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from a state building.
And they’re looking to persuade Trump not to campaign for Moore’s rival, incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. While Trump has endorsed Strange, the president has been conspicuously silent since the senator finished second to Moore in the first round of balloting on Aug. 15. The runoff is Sept. 26.
The pro-Moore effort will intensify this week, when the candidate arrives in Washington to hold a procession of meetings with influential conservatives that he hopes will culminate in endorsements. Among those Moore is slated to huddle with: members of the House Freedom Caucus and former diplomat and presidential candidate Alan Keyes, who is hosting a Wednesday evening fundraising reception. Attendees are being asked to give up to $2,700, according to an invitation.
Steve Bannon is helping to orchestrate the push. The former White House chief strategist has broken with Trump and endorsed the insurgent-minded Moore. Bannon, who returned to Breitbart last month after leaving the White House, has dispatched one of his favorite writers, Matt Boyle, to Alabama.
Breitbart has published a number of unflattering stories recently about Strange, seemingly designed to isolate Strange from the president.
“As White House Backs off Alabama Race, Desperate Luther Strange Lies in Attacks on Judge Roy Moore,” read one headline. Another Boyle-authored article contended that Strange had gotten “crosswise” with the president by hiring an ally of ex-George W. Bush adviser and sometimes-Trump critic Karl Rove.
Bannon has appealed to powerful conservatives to get behind Moore. He recently addressed the Conservative Action Project, a gathering that included former Attorney General Ed Meese, former American Spectator publisher Alfred Regnery, and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Last week, he reiterated the case for Moore on a conference call hosted by Judicial Watch, a conservative non-profit group.
In both appearances, Bannon was careful not to paint his support for Moore as a repudiation of Trump but rather as opposition to McConnell, who has heavily financed Strange’s campaign and has made the race a top political priority.
The race, Bannon said in his remarks, is a defining battle between the conservative base against establishment Republicans like McConnell who he argues have obstructed the president.
Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, declined to comment on the candidate’s trip to Washington but expressed confidence that Moore is gaining traction with prominent conservatives.
“Judge Moore has proven time and again that he will do what he says he will do and that is one of the things that attracts voters to him,” Armistead said.
With several recent polls showing Moore with a lead over Strange, Trump must decide whether to spend precious political capital on the senator’s behalf. Prior to the primary, Trump repeatedly tweeted his support for the incumbent and cut a robo-call for him.
But he has said little about the contest since then, other than a post-election tweet congratulating “Roy Moore and Luther Strange for being the final two and heading into a September runoff in Alabama.
“Exciting race!” Trump added.
Those close to Strange say they are optimistic that Trump will follow through with an Alabama campaign event, though the administration has remained publicly non-committal. Reached on Monday, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said there was “nothing to announce on the schedule at this time.”
Regardless of Trump’s decision, Strange will be able to count on the support of McConnell. A super PAC aligned with the majority leader, Senate Leadership Fund, has already spent $4 million on the senator’s behalf and is slated to invest another $3.6 million during the runoff. It has dwarfed the spending of other groups.
Trump’s endorsement of Strange has deeply upset some of his most loyal backers in the state. Some of them say the president should have backed the insurgent Moore over the establishment-friendly senator.
“It would be wise for Trump to not meddle in our affairs,” said state Rep. Ed Henry, a Moore supporter who co-chaired Trump’s Alabama campaign. “He needs to understand that we know best. We were savvy enough to pick him. Trust us to pick someone who will make America great again.”
Alabama was critical to Trump’s rise as a national candidate. His Aug. 2015 rally in Mobile is widely credited with catapulting his 2016 campaign.
While Trump has been losing support nationally, he remains popular in the state. The Senate special election, for the seat that Attorney General Jeff Sessions held for two decades, and two congressional primaries in the state have turned into litmus tests over who supports the president the most.
It would be an embarrassing mistake, some of the president’s supporters say, for him to venture to Alabama for Strange only to see him fall short.
“The probability of a failed presidential endorsement may suffice to give Trump pause,” said Tom Fredricks, an outdoors equipment company executive who appeared with Trump at the Mobile rally and helped to run his campaign in the northern part of the state, “as Luther appears to be in serious peril.”
Powered by WPeMatico