The special election for the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama is a clear preview of what could happen in Mississippi in 2018. The results also could be the shove Ellisville’s Chris McDaniel needs to make his run against incumbent Roger Wicker for the U.S. Senate seat.
In all likelihood, McDaniel, a Republican who received 85 percent of the vote in Jones County in the last state Senate election, will seek one of two offices.
He could run for lieutenant governor, where the loathsome Tate “Turtle on a Fencepost” Reeves is serving his second term, but certainly will run for governor in 2019, since Phil Bryant will be term-limited. That leaves the lieutenant governor spot up for grabs and that position is the most powerful in state government. It sets the committees and the agenda in state government. McDaniel could certainly shake up the state’s agenda, which would directly affect state taxpayers. McDaniel would have to wait an extra year, though, and that could be too much for the firebrand wanting to blow up Establishment politics.
Or, he could take on Wicker, the embodiment of Establish Republican politics. Wicker was hand-picked by Mississippi’s “Godfather” Haley Barbour, who is the textbook definition of Establishment Republicans. Wicker falls dutifully in line with Senate leadership led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making him a solid yes vote for the Establishment. And there is no doubt the insidious tactics the “gentlemanly” Thad Cochran and his camp used to defeat McDaniel in 2014 still sting the locally ultra-popular state senator.
Wicker is a senatorial soldier. Look for most any photo of Mitch McConnell addressing the media and there are six or eight senators standing behind him. Wicker is in all of those. But McConnell’s days as Senate leader are certainly numbered. If any one event exemplified McConnell’s decreasing influence, it is the Alabama senate results.
Luther Strange was hand-picked for the Alabama senate seat when President Donald Trump tapped Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. Strange was much like Wicker — Establishment. McConnell and his ilk poured millions of dollars into the campaign to get Strange elected over ultra-conservative Roy Moore, the non-Establishment candidate.
It would have seemed logical for Trump to endorse Moore, seeing as he has always desired to “drain the swamp.” He inexplicably backed McConnell’s candidate.
The “yes” man lost handily. And in that defeat, so did Mitch McConnell and Establishment politicians. Trump distanced himself from his support for Strange as several of his tweets endorsing Strange disappeared. Obviously the president’s support came through more nefarious means. The Establishment noose will avoid Trump, but will fit securely on the necks of the future of McConnell and all those who fall in line behind him.
And that is what makes McDaniel’s decision more difficult. Wicker likely woke up Wednesday morning a terribly weakened candidate. He will have the support of Barbour and McConnell and that wing of the Republican party — and that may be to his ultimate detriment. The culture and values of the people of Alabama are much the same as those of the people of Mississippi. Both states voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump because of his stance against the Establishment. Although Trump has found the Establishment a roadblock, the voters are taking down one limb at a time the Establishment candidates.
Before polls closed in Alabama on Tuesday, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, another lock-step McConnell Republican, announced that he was not seeking a third term. He chalked it up to his always saying he couldn’t envision himself serving more than two terms. Hmm?
Could it be the weakness McDaniel could exploit to forever lay waste to the results of 2014 when he came within percentage points of winning the primary, then came within thousands of Democrat crossover votes — bought and paid for by the Establishment Republicans — of winning the runoff? Could Alabama be the first domino to fall that eventually leads McDaniel to Washington?
Or would he be better served here in the most powerful position in state government?
The decision will be a difficult one. Whichever office he seeks, he will be most formidable competition against a neutered Establishment.