With the strained cheerfulness of a convict addressing a parole board, Jeff Sessions stares into the camera in his first Senate campaign ad and tells us how good he’s been since President Trump kicked him out of the attorney general’s office one year ago.
“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No!” Sessions says, backdropped by a pale gray void. “Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope! Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time.”
Left unsaid are the many cross words Trump said about Sessions before forcing him out of the Justice Department last November: that he was a “dumb Southerner” and “beleaguered A.G.” who looked like Mr. Magoo; that he failed to protect Trump from a special counsel investigation, made decisions that were “VERY weak” and “should be ashamed of himself."
Other administration castaways have paid Trump back in kind for his insults — notably, former FBI director James B. Comey and the short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who publicly oppose the president.
Usually, they at least try to defend themselves.
But Sessions, who announced Thursday that he will run for the same U.S. Senate seat for Alabama he relinquished when he became Trump’s first attorney general in 2017, uses his first ad exclusively to ingratiate himself to his ex-boss — so much that he never actually gets around to mentioning his Senate candidacy.
“I was there to serve his agenda, not mine,” Sessions says at the end of the 30-second spot, which is titled “Great Job.”
“The president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support. ”
“It’s not just weird for a first ad; it’s weird for any ad,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said. “A normal ad for a Senate candidate would be, shockingly, about the Senate candidate. This is an intro ad for some other dude who happens to be the president of the United States."
Sessions first ran for and won the Senate seat in 1996, with a conventional conservative ad campaign that featured Alabama greenery, folksy plaid shirts and the faces of other human beings. He talked then about “fundamental values” and “a God in heaven who orders the universe.”
The only higher power mentioned in Thursday’s video is the president, who remains extremely popular among Republicans and has sometimes worked to sabotage members of his party whom he does not consider loyal, such as Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona.
It’s an ad for an “audience of one,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communication professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Message to President Trump: Don’t attack me,” she said. “We’ve never had a president so uniquely susceptible to influence by watching televised messages, whose policy statements seem to mirror those on 'Fox & Friends.’ You can’t imagine someone doing this with Barack Obama."
And if that’s the ad’s goal, it might work. Trump told reporters on Friday that he at least wouldn’t campaign against Sessions, who is competing with several Republicans and a Democratic incumbent for his old seat.
“I saw he said very nice things about me last night,” Trump said. Message received?