The GOP Has Become a Personality Cult
When voters become rubber stamps for one man's agenda, we all lose.
Tommy Tuberville won Alabama's U.S. Senate primary against Jeff Sessions by nearly 30 percentage points this week. I am a liberal. You may be a conservative who strongly supports Donald Trump. Regardless, you should be deeply disturbed about what Tuberville's landslide victory means for the Republican Party and our nation.
I strongly disagree with Sessions on almost every political issue and didn't want to see him back in the Senate. But, the news that Alabama Republicans consider Tuberville a better candidate than Sessions by such a large margin chills me to my core.
Let's consider some potential qualifications for being a Republican U.S. Senator from Alabama:
- Government Experience. Jeff Sessions has been U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, Attorney General of Alabama, U.S. Senator from Alabama for 20 years, and U.S. Attorney General. Tommy Tuberville has been a successful university football coach. There is no question Sessions is the more experienced candidate.
- Connection to Alabama. Sessions was born in Alabama and has lived there all of his 73 years. Tuberville lived in Alabama when he coached at Auburn from 1999–2008. He moved back to Alabama in 2018 for this Senate run. So ~73 years living in Alabama versus ~12 years. There is no question Sessions knows Alabama and the challenges Alabama residents face better than Tuberville.
- Transparency with Voters. Sessions has years of decisions and votes in public office that voters could scrutinize. He conducted numerous media interviews and made numerous public appearances during this campaign. He offered to have as many as five public debates with Tuberville. Tuberville gave few media interviews and made few open-to-all public appearances. He refused to debate Sessions even once. There is no question Sessions was a more transparent candidate with voters.
- Morals and Ethics / "Draining the Swamp". Sessions is an Eagle Scout who has taught Sunday School classes. As Attorney General, he recused himself from the Russia investigation because of conflict of interest concerns. Tuberville is not a Scout. He was a co-defendant in a lawsuit alleging his hedge fund defrauded investors of $1.7 million. His partner in the fund was found guilty of securities fraud, ordered to pay $2.1 million in restitution and to serve ten years in jail. Tuberville settled his case out of court on undisclosed terms. Tuberville also only gave a one-game suspension to an Auburn football player charged with the rape of a 15-year-old in 1999. Sessions would seem to be the person with the stronger moral and ethical center here.
- Conservative "Trumpian" Policies. Sessions brags that he was "Trump before Trump" and has numerous conservative decisions and votes from his government service to back up that claim. Because Tuberville didn't do debates, has done few media interviews, and has done few open-to-all public events, his policy positions are much less clear. He repeatedly says he supports Trump and Trump's policies. That's about it. This policy qualification goes slightly in Sessions' favor. Sessions is a demonstrated conservative while Tuberville claims to be one.
- Endorsed by Donald Trump. Trump hates Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. So he has publicly savaged Sessions and endorsed Tuberville. On this single qualification, Tuberville clearly wins. And, for most Alabama Republicans, a Trump endorsement is apparently the only qualification that matters.
Jeff Sessions has been a deeply conservative Alabama Republican all of his life. He was one of the first major Republican politicians to endorse Trump for President in 2016. Trump might not have won the Republican presidential nomination without Sessions' early and enthusiastic support.
As Trump's Attorney General, Sessions conducted himself as a staunch conservative and supported Trump in every way but one. Because Sessions had some dealings with Russian officials around the time of the election, he recused himself from the Russia investigation. He did not attack or criticize Trump. He simply stepped back from one investigation for an ethical reason. This was a transgression that Trump and Alabama Republicans would not forgive.
What has just happened in Alabama is an example of what is happening in Republican politics around the nation. The GOP has become a personality cult. Everyone must show allegiance to Trump at all times. No one can criticize or fail to defend the Dear Leader. The only thing that matters to most Republican voters is following Trump's lead.
I hope with all my heart that Trump loses in November. Having one of our two major political parties engaging in this cult-like behavior is dangerous for our democracy. When voters become rubber stamps for one man's agenda, we all lose.
Main blog post image by Sam Carter.