The Republican leading in the runoff race in Alabama's Senate primary appears to have no idea what the biggest political issues of the moment even are.
In a July 11 interview with the Dale Jackson Show on local radio channel WVNN, and uncovered Friday by Washington Examiner columnist Philip Wegmann, Judge Roy Moore appears completely stumped on what the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is — you know, the one that's been a rallying cry on the right for liberal overreach for years, and the one President Trump has said he'll decide about over the weekend, and the one some Republicans in Congress are paradoxically encouraging him to keep.
Moore was the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court (before he was kicked off last year for not abiding by the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage.) He's ahead of interim Sen. Luther Strange (R) in polling right now for the Sept. 26 runoff to fill the seat that Jeff Sessions left to become attorney general. He very well might be Alabama's next senator.
And in a two-minute conversation with radio host Dale Jackson, Moore appeared to have no knowledge of what DACA is. Here's the conversation:
JACKSON: “Would you support an end to the Dreamer program that President Trump has still continued to push?
MOORE: “Pardon? The Dreamer program?”
JACKSON: “Yes Sir. The DACA/DAPA. You're not aware of what dreamers are?”
JACKSON: “Dreamers are — this is a big issue in the immigration debate. Dreamers are . . .”
MOORE: “Why don't you tell me what it is Dale, and quit beating around, and tell me what it is?”
JACKSON: “I'm in the process of doing that, Judge Moore.”
Jackson goes on to explain that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is the result of an Obama executive order that defers deportations for nearly 800,000 young adults.
Trump had promised to get rid of it, but seven months into his administration, he hasn't. Now, some Republicans are forcing his hand: Trump has until Tuesday to decide whether to keep the program or risk litigation from Republican attorneys general in 10 states.
“I'm kinda shocked that you don't know what it is,” Jackson said.
“Well if Trump's done it, well then, that's what Trump does,” Moore finally said. “I don't necessarily agree with it.”
This doesn't look like spacing out, or a politician mistaking one acronym for another. (Charitably, Libertarian nominee for president Gary Johnson could have just been confused last year on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” when he asked: “What is Aleppo?")
Barnicle: "What would you do...about Aleppo?"
Gary Johnson: "What is Aleppo?"
Barnicle: "Aleppo is in Syria." https://t.co/bUjzLtkI2F
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) September 8, 2016
Johnson said he eventually “got it” and went on to talk Syria policy, if shakily.
But after Moore had the program explained to him — and referred by several different names just in case one jogged his memory — he still appeared to have no idea what it is, nor an opinion on it.
He went on to mistakenly say that Congress has “taken up” the program. (Jackson corrects him by pointing out the whole reason DACA exists in the first place is because Congress failed to pass immigration reform and a frustrated Obama did what he could by executive order.)
What makes Moore's confusion even more surprising is he's positioned himself as an immigration hardliner in the fashion of Sessions. It's not at the top of the list of things he's campaigned on, but he has said he wants to stop illegal immigration by building Trump's wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
It's not immediately clear how Moore's dearth of knowledge about a major immigration battle will play out for Moore, other than his opponents jumped on the opportunity to whack him for it. Trump has endorsed Strange in the primary, joining sides with his sometimes-nemesis Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). There are signs Trump regrets joining the establishment, even in a state where he's popular.
Strange issued a statement: “While career politician Roy Moore doesn't even know what DACA is, Luther stands with President Trump, and has fought against Obama's illegal amnesty plan — and won.”
In response to this story, a Moore campaign spokeswoman said this to The Fix: “Judge Moore doesn't speak the language of Washington. He speaks the language of the Constitution. Judge Moore opposes amnesty under any name. These are the same tactics the career politicians and liberal media used against President Trump, trying to trap in Washington-speak. People don't care about acronyms. They want the border secured, and President Trump and Roy Moore will get that done.”
And even though it's Alabama, the runoff winner will still have to win a general election in December. Democratic nominee Doug Jones said in a statement: "I’d love to comment but I am speechless that a candidate for the United States Senate doesn’t know what the DACA or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act is… In all seriousness with everything happening on the Gulf Coast right now, this is not the right time to try and hurt more families and more children. I know what DACA is, I support it, and as the Democratic nominee for Alabama’s Senate seat I call on Luther Strange and the President to support families and support children."
David Weigel contributed to this report.