Rep. Mo Brooks swore something akin to a blood oath last week and now the Alabama electorate wants to know if he's serious.
Last week, Brooks promised to drop out of the special senate election to make way for Attorney General Jeff Sessions if the rest of the field, including incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, join the exodus. Asked by a local reporter if he'd drop out even after winning the primary, Brooks said "we will deal with that issue if it happens."
The Brooks and Strange camps reacted predictably to that statement.
A source with knowledge of Brooks's thinking was more clear. "In that crazy hypothetical situation," the operative told the Washington Examiner, "absolutely he'd consider it." But that's a slim possibility....It's obvious there's going to be a runoff."
"I guess Mo Brooks knows that his ploy to pit Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions against each other, just like the liberal media has done," a Strange campaign spokesman told the Examiner, "has failed and is now trying to backtrack his commitment to drop out."
Here's why all that matters:
Brooks is leaving the door open for Sessions grand return to the upper chamber. Should the attorney general tire of presidential abuse, the Brooks offer at least offers an opportunity to get his old job back. Is that improbable? Sure. Is it impossible? Not at all.
Nodding at Sessions allows Brooks to dodge attacks that he's not loyal to Trump in an increasingly tribal election. Incumbent Sen. Luther Strange has tied his fate to Trump, who won 62 percent of the general election vote. Brooks has ducked his past criticism of the president (he called Trump a "serial philanderer" in 2015) by rallying to Sessions, who won reelection in 2014 with 97 percent of the vote.
Winning doesn't mean getting first place the first time. While the special primary starts August 15th, with ten candidates and none approaching the requisite 50 percent, it's almost certainly going trigger a runoff. Polling has been sparse but according to a July 20 survey conducted by Cygnal, Strange leads with 33 percent of the vote. Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Brooks rank at 26 and 16 points respectively.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.