Surely, there have been more preposterous endorsement sagas than the one that’s played out in the Alabama Republican Senate primary, but it’s hard to think of one.
Donald Trump endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks on the presumption that Brooks was a faithful acolyte without scruple — for which, to be fair, there was considerable evidence — and then when Brooks faltered in the polls, unendorsed him in humiliating fashion.
Brooks responded with a statement about how Trump had pressured him to support throwing Joe Biden out of office, reinstating the former president, and holding a new presidential special election. To his minimal credit, Brooks didn’t bend to Trump’s demands. It raises the question, though, of why he was touting — indeed, making the main feature of his candidacy — the endorsement of a man who urged him to back these feverishly outlandish measures?
Such is the debacle in Alabama that it’s hard to know who looks worse — the endorser without an ounce of loyalty or the endorsee without an ounce of self-respect.
If Trump’s back-and-forth over Brooks is notably sophomoric, it’s not uncharacteristic. Indeed, the party will continue to be subjected to such spectacles as long as Trump is its dominant figure, which will be for quite some time if Donald J. Trump has anything to say about it.
As everyone knows, he’s seriously considering running in 2024.
It’s understandable that he’d want to try to ascend once again to the most powerful office in the land, and once again bestride the nation’s news cycle like a colossus. The question for Republicans to consider over the next two years is, why would they want to go along for this ride one more time?
If there were any doubt about Trump’s priorities, the Brooks fiasco should remove it. He got out in front early with an ill-advised endorsement of Brooks because the congressman readily said everything Trump wanted to hear about the 2020 election — the endorsement was about paying obeisance to Trump, not to any principle.
When Brooks, who never seemed likely to be a strong statewide candidate, began to crater, Trump dumped him to avoid the taint of any association with his loss — the un-endorsement, too, was about Trump personally.
In his statement disavowing Brooks, Trump hit him for the purported offense of saying at a rally back in August that Republicans should move on from the 2020 elections and focus on winning in 2022 and 2024.
Even if this rationale for dropping Brooks is largely pre-textual, it’s still telling. Trump wants the party, to its detriment, to be as obsessed with relitigating 2020 as he is. Trump called the Brooks statement going “woke,” as if urging the GOP to make winning future elections its top concern is the same as endorsing critical race theory in schools or trying to cancel Joe Rogan.
The party should be entering a new, more discretionary phase in its relationship with Trump. The best argument for him once he was nominated in 2016 was that he was the only alternative to Hillary Clinton, and in 2020 that he was the only alternative to Joe Biden.
That isn’t the case now.
Republicans could have their pick of a plethora of alternatives in 2024 who don’t personalize everything, who don’t create a haze of chaos and melodrama around everything they do, who don’t routinely turn on people who work for them, who don’t put their interest in vengeance over the interests of the party, and who don’t carry more baggage than the underbelly of an Airbus A380-800.
There are about 20 other potential Republican candidates and none of them, not a single one, has lost an election to Biden before, and none of them has to expend any energy trying to explain away such a defeat to the broader world or to him or her self.
That’s a luxury Trump will never have.
Any of the other Republicans would offer a relative normality. Imagine Republicans not having to scurry away from reporters every time they ask about something the GOP nominee says or having to keep to themselves — the way Brooks did for so long — constitutionally grotesque requests made by him or her.