Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will formally enter the race for the Senate seat he left almost three years ago to serve as the top cop in the Trump administration.
In so doing, he’ll also be trying to do something we haven’t seen in this presidency yet: a former administration official, who has fallen out with the President, trying to write a new chapter in his political life by appealing to the very voters who made Donald Trump President.
We’ve seen second acts from the likes of Anthony Scaramucci and Michael Cohen, former Trump confidants who have turned on the President and built a following that way. But we’ve yet to see someone like Sessions, a celebrated conservative prior to his association with Trump, try to make a comeback in a space where the President still reigns supreme.
To win the Republican nomination — and the right to challenge Sen. Doug Jones (D), who won the special election to replace him back in 2017 — Sessions will need conservatives in the state to vote for him. Which, if Trump had never existed, wouldn’t be a problem. After all, Sessions, who was elected to the Senate in 1996 and easily reelected three times, regularly scored as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the chamber.
It was Sessions’ outspoken and hard-line views on immigration that initially attracted Trump the candidate to him — and vice versa. Sessions was one of the earliest congressional endorsers of Trump and one of his most active surrogates. The duo’s closeness explains why Sessions wound up as attorney general, one of the most powerful posts in the Cabinet, when Trump won in 2016.
And then the Russia investigation happened. And Sessions recused himself because he had been such a high-profile campaign surrogate for Trump and didn’t want the investigation tainted. And Trump turned on Sessions in a very public way, laying the blame for the entire special counsel investigation at the AG’s feet. And he fired Sessions the day after the 2018 election, after more than a year of public bullying and berating. And then Sessions disappeared.
“Mr. Sessions had been chewing on the idea of returning to the Senate for several months, making clear to allies and advisers that he was pained at the possibility that his final act in public life could be his contentious 21-month tenure at the Justice Department.”
Sessions’ decision to go forward with his Senate candidacy is a bold move for a man who developed a reputation for quiet submissiveness during Trump’s regular public tirades against him. What Sessions is doing with this candidacy is daring Trump, who has been silent about his former AG since firing him, to speak out publicly — and betting that Trump won’t do it.
The race is further complicated by the fact that, of the announced candidates, Sessions would likely have the best chance of knocking off Jones if he could make it through the primary. And that Roy Moore, the hugely controversial Republican who lost to Jones following allegations of sexual assault and molestation against him, is also in the race.
The Point: Sessions is playing a game of chicken with Trump, hoping he will have the chance to write his own ending to his political career. If past is prologue, Trump rarely lets anyone have the last word.