If there was one moment in the early days of the campaign when close political observers knew that Donald Trump was more than just a novelty act it was Aug. 21, 2015 when he drew tens of thousands of fans to a rally in Mobile, Alabama. Aside from the fact that he’s a ridiculous clown, it had been an article of faith among pundits and analysts that a brash New Yorker like Trump could never play in the deep south. There’s not a single down home thing about him from his exotic foreign born supermodel wife to his lavish penthouses to his effete personal habits (like being a germophobe.) We were told for decades that white southerners would only respond to a good old boy (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and Donald Trump is no good old boy.
And yet this rally was immense and the attendees were rapturous. Here is how CNN described it:
Mobile, Alabama (CNN)Donald Trump brought 30,000 supporters from deep red Alabama to a Friday night pep rally in a football stadium, the latest sign that the Republican front-runner has broad, nationwide strength.
Over an hour of often rambling remarks, the New York businessman reveled in the crowd size while he offered them his usual menu of patriotic pledges and carefree criticism of the media, his opponents and political correctness that he said his crowd similarly despised.
"We've gotten an amazing reception," Trump said as he began his remarks, turning his back to the podium at the Ladd-Peebles Stadium and pointing to the rafters behind him. "Has this been crazy? Man!"
The event was previously planned to be held at the nearby Civic Center but was moved to the 43,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium -- a venue normally home to high school football games -- to accommodate the crowd. The City of Mobile confirmed late Friday that 30,000 people attended. "It was one of the greatest events Mobile ever put on aside from Mardi Gras," said Colby Cooper, Mayor Sandy Stimpson's chief of staff.
The event got wall to wall coverage on the cable news networks, of course, and people were able to hear members of the white supremacist faction screaming “white power” repeatedly as he spoke. When asked about it by CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski didn’t disavow it saying, "I don't know about the individual you're talking about in Alabama. I know there were 30-plus thousand people in that stadium. They were very receptive to the message of 'making America great again' because they want to be proud to be Americans again."
That rally also featured the first Republican elected official to appear with Trump at one of his events. It was Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a man betting markets now say is the favorite to be Donald Trump’s vice president. Considering his history and his position as the most anti-immigrant, white supremacist sympathizer in the US Senate, it makes sense that Trump would choose him. (Whether it makes sense from an electoral standpoint is another story --- this is Trump, after all.)
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is really a throwback to the time Donald Trump thinks America was great — the 1950s — and is, therefore, perfect for the 2016 GOP ticket.
You may recall that Sessions first came to national prominence back in 1986 when Ronald Reagan nominated him for a federal judgeship. He was only 39 years old and considered quite the up and comer. ,. As Sarah Wildman wrote in this article for The New Republic, his record was ugly indeed:
Senate Democrats tracked down a career justice department employee named J Gerald Hebert, who testified, albeit reluctantly, that in a conversation between the two men Sessions had labelled the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "communist-inspired". Hebert said Sessions had claimed these groups "forced civil rights down the throats of people."
In his confirmation hearings, Sessions sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as "un-American" when "they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions" in foreign policy. Hebert testified that the young lawyer tended to "pop off" on such topics regularly, noting that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases.
Despite the fact that Reagan had easily gotten more than 200 judges confirmed by a Democratic Senate, Sessions became only the second man in 50 years to be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was an ignominious defeat.
The people of Alabama had his back however, and he went on to become the state’s Attorney General where he was accused of vote suppression in the black community with zealous pursuit of bogus voter fraud cases. In 1996, they sent him to the Senate where he has consistently received a “0” rating from every civil rights and civil liberties organization in the country. Nonetheless, he found himself on the Senate Judiciary Committee and as ranking member in 2009 led the charge against the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, largely on the basis of her alleged inability to be fair due to her Puerto Rican heritage. (And you wonder why Trump likes this guy so much?)
Trump’s right hand man Paul Manafort has said Trump wants a VP who will do all the work he isn’t interested in doing which makes sense since he’ll be on the horn with CEOs all over the country dictating their business practices, personally overseeing the building of the wall and singlehandedly writing trade agreements where Americans win and everyone else loses. He’s going to be busy. Sessions is just the right guy to handle all the spillover.
Trump has recently been called to admonish members of the Republican party for their bad behavior. Last week he begged them to “be quiet” and told his crowds that they need to shut up and he’ll get the job done without them. On Sunday he elaborated on what he considers the proper roles for elected officials:
"If people, and especially, you know, where people endorse me, Republican leaders, I think that honestly they should go about their business and they should do a wonderful job and work on budgets and get the budgets down and get the military the types of money they need and lots of other things. And they shouldn't be talking so much. They should go out and do their job. Let me do my job.
Unfortunately, the media just likes to cover, really, a small number of people that maybe have something to say. I think they should go about their work. Let me run for president. I think I'm going to do very well."
If I didn’t know better I’d think maybe Donald Trump doesn’t have much respect for the congress’s role in our system of government.
But he doesn’t need to worry about his good friend Senator Sessions. He’s defended him all the way from the wall to the “Mexican Judge.” This week-end he staunchly stood with his man despite tremendous pressure to criticize him. And he’s helped immensely with the Muslim ban, by getting Trump to tweak his proposal to now be a ban of all people from certain regions around the globe. The fact that there’s no way to know what a person’s religion is seems to have finally sunk in with Trump and Sessions was there to provide him with an equally bigoted alternative. They make quite a team.
At this point, it’s going to be hard for Trump to even find someone who wants to be on a ticket with him. It will likely spell certain doom for his or her career. In fact, of the top candidates, only Sessions and Gingrich already have such terrible reputations (and in Sessions’ case, serve such a noxious constituency) that it won’t matter. I’m with the betting markets in giving Sessions the edge at this point. He’s not only a true Trump loyalist going back to the beginning of the primary campaign, he actually agrees with Trump on most everything. Gingrich is just an opportunist and his ego is nearly as big as Trump’s.
Sessions is a perfect grey eminence. He’ll do for domestic authoritarian police power and racist government policy what Dick Cheney did for military adventurism and neoconservative national security policy. This could finally be his moment.