Alabama is a state that few recent presidents have had political reason to pay much attention to. It’s not competitive at the presidential level, it has relatively few electoral votes, it’s not a haven for major donors or high-powered politicos, and it’s not a key primary state.
But Donald Trump is not most presidents. And he has hailed Alabama perhaps more than any other state.
It has not rewarded his devotion. In fact, it has saddled him with a series of high-profile embarrassments. And now it’s the subject of perhaps his most bizarre presidential diversion.
President Trump’s defense of his incorrect tweet about the supposedly major risk Alabama faced from Hurricane Dorian is now in its sixth day, after Trump unleashed his latest counterfactual tweets about the matter.
For those who want a deep dive into how wrong Trump was and is about all this, see my colleague Philip Bump’s post. There is quite simply no good-faith defense of Trump tweeting Sunday that Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” at a time when hurricane projections didn’t include it and were moving farther and farther away from it. But let’s set that aside for the moment.
The question is, why did Trump feel the need to lump Alabama in with the states that did face danger? The simplest explanation is that he wasn’t really engaged. A not mutually exclusive explanation is that he feels protective of the state because of how much he loves it — and how much it has loved him.
Alabama is a deep-red state that was always going to vote for the Republican nominee in the general election. But it seemed to gain a special place in Trump’s heart in summer 2015, when it played host to one of the more remarkable spectacles of the early-2016 campaign. Trump moved a rally that was planned for a civic center into a football stadium in Mobile — an event that helped serve notice that he might not just be a novelty candidate.
Trump couldn’t get over that night. According to Factbase’s collection of all of Trump’s public comments, Trump mentioned the size of his crowd that night in Mobile no fewer than 58 times in the months that followed. Initially, he said there were 31,000 people. Then it was 35,000. Eventually, it climbed to 40,000, which is the capacity of that stadium at the University of South Alabama. (The Washington Post reported at the time that Trump filled “perhaps half” of it.)
Alabama also delivered Trump his first high-profile endorsement, from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). And on Super Tuesday 2016, it gave him his second-highest vote share (43 percent) among the 11 states voting — and his third-highest to that point in the race.
“I love this place,” Trump said in 2017. “You know, we set every record in Alabama. I love Alabama. It’s special.”
But Trump’s love has sometimes been unrequited. Trump rewarded Sessions’s support by making him attorney general, only to see Sessions recuse himself from the Russia investigation in a way that totally alienated Trump and made him fearful for his presidency. Trump would spend months and months bashing Sessions, even publicly, for that decision before forcing him out. In an often-contentious administration, Trump’s relationship with Sessions might have been the most remarkably bad.
With Sessions’s appointment came a Senate vacancy that Republicans were expected to win. It was clear early in the race that Roy Moore would put that outcome in far more jeopardy than would Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), appointed to replace Sessions, if he won the GOP primary. Trump went out on a limb, endorsing Strange over Moore despite Moore’s style honing more closely to Trump’s. Strange lost the runoff by 10 points, but not before Trump expressed regret for his decision — at a rally for Strange, no less.
The GOP’s fears about Moore were quickly realized after The Post broke a story — and other stories followed — about women who said Moore pursued and even sexually assaulted them when they were younger than 18 and he was in his 30s. While other Republicans disowned Moore — even if it meant chopping their four-seat Senate majority in half — Trump defended Moore and endorsed him. Trump even held a rally in the Florida Panhandle, just miles from Alabama, the purpose of which was clear — supporting Moore without technically going to Alabama for him. Trump erased any doubt at the rally that that was the intent: “Get out and vote for Roy Moore,” he said.
Alabama didn’t listen, sending a Democrat to the Senate for the first time since 1992. It was a high-profile political embarrassment for Trump: the second candidate he had risked his political capital on, only to see them lose, in one race, in perhaps his favorite state.
Which brings us to today. After Trump tweeted what he tweeted about the risk Alabama faced, the National Weather Service quickly contradicted him. It tweeted: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”
But it wasn’t just from the National Weather Service; it was from the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala. Yet again, Alabama bucked Trump. And he has spent the past five days bucking back.