Strange Money, Strange Politics

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Sep 10, 2017 12:01 AM
Strange Money, Strange Politics

With a Republican commander-in-chief in the White House, both houses of Congress in Republican hands, and a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court appointed by Republican presidents, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that Democrats and progressives would be unhappy with Washington, D.C.

What might be surprising is how unhappy rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives are with Washington, D.C.

Voter surveys have found the GOP-controlled Congress to be more popular among self-described Democrats than self-described Republicans. Contemplate that perverse fact for a moment.

Not that regular folks of either the R or D persuasion approve of the Congress, mind you, whether managed by Republicans or Democrats. Why not? The term “representative” — when describing members of Congress — has become a euphemism for “unrepresentative.”

Or perhaps one could legitimately say they are consistently representing Washington, D.C.

Take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Puh-lease! He’s mighty popular in Washington. The Senate Republican caucus elects him leader. He is not so popular outside Washington, though.

On Sept. 26, a Republican runoff in Alabama pits controversial Judge Roy Moore, who gained national attention and lost his judgeship fighting to keep a Ten Commandments monument on court grounds and again over his opposition to gay marriage, against U.S. Senator Luther Strange, temporarily appointed to the Senate seat vacated by now-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The Strange appointment turns out to be just that, strange — raising eyebrows because scandal-ridden Governor Robert Bentley picked Strange for the new job in Washington at the same time the governor was being investigated by Strange, then serving as Alabama’s Attorney General.

In the August 15 GOP primary, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks garnered 20 percent of the vote, finishing third to Moore (39 percent) and Strange (33 percent). Declining to endorse either remaining candidate, Brooks did compliment Judge Moore for running “a very honest campaign.” As for Strange, however, Brooks offered: “Equally important, I want to congratulate the people who were behind him: Mitch McConnell, the Washington establishment, the K street lobbyists. They put together some very tough ads . . .”

After his first-place finish in the primary, Judge Moore also pointed to the massive Washington influence, declaring plainly, “The attempt by the silk stocking Washington elitists to control the vote of the people of Alabama has failed.”

Sen. McConnell has so far poured nearly $7 million from the Senate Leadership Fund into the ’Bama special election, giving Strange what the Birmingham News called “a staggering financial edge over Moore.”

This is official Washington instructing Alabamans as to who they should send to Washington to represent . . . well, that’s the rub. Who will the next senator from Alabama represent?

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, officially on Judge Moore’s side, blasted McConnell, a fellow Republican, for flooding the state with “millions of dollars in false advertising.” Added Meadows, “From what I know about the people of Alabama, their vote is not for sale.”

No sir. The News report also noted that this “money advantage has not translated so far into votes.” A recent poll shows Judge Moore with a double-digit lead over Sen. Strange — 52 to 36 percent.

The widening margin for Moore over Strange may be the result of McConnell’s embrace of Strange. A post-primary survey, which asked about McConnell’s impact on the race, found voters were more likely to oppose Strange because of McConnell’s support than to favor him — by a better than 4-to-1 margin.

President Trump has also endorsed Strange, which with the president’s popularity in bright red Alabama could be more consequential. Yet, as Republican pollster Greg Strimple explained to reporters, it will be difficult in this situation for Trump to “transfer his brand” as an outsider to an insider politician and former lobbyist such as Strange, being funded by established Washington.

“The takeaway,” said Strimple, “is that Washington is very unpopular.”

This is a not entirely new development.

GOP advertising in Georgia’s June special election mostly bypassed Jon Ossoff, the fresh-faced Democrat running for the seat, instead making Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the face of opposition Democrats. “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s face is popping up in TV ads, hanging on door knobs and spilling out of mailboxes every day in Georgia,” reported Politico.

And it seemed to work.

I wonder if, in that same way, in these last weeks, Roy Moore’s campaign will make Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the face of the opposition Washington establishment.

The slogan might be: “The Washington establishment’s choice is Strange.”