How does President Trump handle losing? Apparently, he starts by getting rid of the evidence.
In the aftermath of Sen. Luther Strange's defeat in a Republican primary runoff for Alabama's available Senate seat, Trump has deleted several tweets in which he expressed support for the man he called (but did not name) “Big Luther.” It was an incomplete purge: The president left other, similar tweets intact, and nothing truly disappears from the Internet, anyway.
What Trump's digital eraser really amounts to is another indicator that he is going to act as if his endorsement of Strange never happened. And it sure looks like his media boosters will let him.
The first indicator of Trump's impending political amnesia came on Friday, when he made the remarkably candid admission — at a rally for Strange, of all places — that he “might have made a mistake” in backing the incumbent.
“I have to say this,” Trump continued. “If his opponent wins, I'm going to be here campaigning like hell for him.”
The striking thing about the runoff is not that Trump picked the loser, per se; it is that he overlooked the candidate who, in the eyes of many supporters, better embodied the Trump brand. That was the winner, Roy Moore.
The president misread his own base, which is, in theory, the kind of thing that would alarm his backers in the media, some of whom already have been unsettled by a lack of progress on the southern border wall and by Trump's relative hawkishness, which does not match the noninterventionist vision he laid out as a candidate.
Isn't Trump's endorsement of Strange one more sign that he is losing his way?
Ann Coulter is pretty miffed at the president. She directly contradicted Trump's assertion that he helped make Strange more competitive.
But Coulter is in the minority.
Breitbart News, which went all in for Moore, has not rubbed Trump's nose in defeat. Instead, it has framed Tuesday's result as a loss for other Republican leaders, through headlines like this one: “ESTABLISHMENT GOP BROUGHT TO KNEES.”
The Drudge Report has taken a similar approach. “Establishment rocked,” read one headline. “McConnell's dreadful day,” read another, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Fox News host Sean Hannity was on the air Tuesday night when the race was called. Here's how he broke the news: “We have some breaking news out of the Associated Press now, out of Alabama. Roy Moore has won the Alabama GOP primary runoff. I've said this is a referendum on Mitch McConnell.”
After a commercial break, Hannity returned with guest Bill O'Reilly, who agreed that it is McConnell, not Trump, who has egg on his face.
HANNITY: And this is a Fox News alert. The Associated Press projecting that Roy Moore will win the Alabama Senate runoff, as we continue with the author of the best-selling book, “Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence.” Bill O'Reilly is with us.
I'd say that's a referendum on McConnell.
O'REILLY: Yes. The folks are mad. They want conservative elected officials. Moore, very famous in Alabama. I knew he was going to win from the jump.
An hour earlier, when Moore's victory appeared likely, Fox News's Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume rationalized Trump's endorsement of Strange.
Hume noted that Strange had not criticized Trump for ripping Jeff Sessions, whose elevation to attorney general opened the Senate seat from Alabama that Strange and Moore contested.
“It was an absolutely clear example of his loyalty, that he was not going to go against Trump,” Hume said. “So, you're Trump and looking at him and you're thinking, you know, is this guy going to be a guy that, if it came down to one vote on a health-care bill or something, would he up and cast it against us? I think the conclusion was absolutely not. Judge Moore, on the other hand, is a notably independent, unpredictable, somewhat colorful character. No telling what he might do. So, I think that might be the calculus. It's the only thing that makes any sense, really, when you think about it.”
“The phrase ‘no telling what he might do’ is the last thing a sitting president wants to hear,” Carlson replied.
Hume's analysis is sound, by the way. Moore appeared on “Fox & Friends” Wednesday morning and confirmed that he would, indeed, have voted against the Cassidy-Graham health-care bill that Trump billed as “great” and Strange supported.
Having Fox News explain to viewers why Trump's endorsement of Strange was understandable sure is helpful to the president. A justification from Rush Limbaugh helps, too.
“At the time, I'm sure he was trying to curry some favor with Mitch,” Limbaugh told his listeners last week.
Trump hates to lose, but the good news for him is that many of the conservative media voices who could make the president's “mistake” a big deal seem willing to give him a pass.