Senior Republican advisers backing anti-establishment firebrand Roy Moore have deep ties to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and posted tweets critical of President Trump during the 2016 campaign.
Brett Doster, Moore’s campaign manager in a closely watched Alabama Senate race, ran Bush’s South Carolina operation in last year’s GOP presidential primary. Mike Hanna, consulting for a pro-Moore super PAC, has been in Bush’s inner circle since the Floridian's 1994 gubernatorial campaign.
Doster and Hanna were sharply critical of Trump throughout the 2016 contest, during which the future president attacked Bush mercilessly. Their past affiliation with Bush, an establishment favorite, could complicate Moore's bid to use Trump’s tacit endorsement to boost his embattled campaign.
In danger of losing in ruby red Alabama after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, Moore has drawn similarities between himself and Trump. The retired judge is calling the allegations against him a conspiracy created by the Republican establishment to keep him out of Washington.
"I’m not just a political consultant for hire. I work for conservatives who have the courage to lead," Doster said Monday in an email exchange with the Washington Examiner. "So I was on the Bush team, and I wasn’t just critical of Trump a couple of times, I was critical of him and our many other opponents many times. That's normal when you go to war for your candidate. But Trump has earned my respect for sticking to his guns and bringing a strong commitment to reform to Washington."
It’s common for political operatives to make public statements supportive of their clients’ campaigns. So the trail of tweets critical of Trump, left by Doster and Hanna from when they were Bush boosters, is not unusual. But it could embarrass Moore and derail his budding rapprochement with Trump. The president is sensitive to criticism, even using past attacks as a reason to quash prospective administration hires.
The two Doster tweets curated by the Washington Examiner, from February 2016, were critical but not crude. In one, the veteran GOP strategist accuses then-candidate Trump of fabricating information. Hanna’s tweets, however, were scathing — some might say, “Trumpian.”
Hanna could not be reached for comment. According to a Federal Election Commission filing, the pro-Moore Proven Conservative PAC paid his firm, Hanna & Associates, $15,000 for consulting services in late September.
Here’s a sampling of his tweets:
Moore is facing Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election. The winner will take popular Republican Jeff Sessions' seat. Sessions resigned in January to become attorney general. Moore defeated appointed Sen. Luther Strange in September in the GOP runoff.
Moore, 70, was cruising until revelations surfaced about his penchant for dating teenage girls decades ago when he was single and in his 30s. Leigh Corfman, one of Moore’s accusers, alleges that Moore engaged in sexual activity with her when she was 14, two years under the age of consent.
Moore has responded by taking a page out of Trump’s playbook.
Like Trump’s response toward the end of the 2016 campaign, when multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, Moore has vehemently denied all allegations and described them as a plot by the Democratic and Republican establishments to sink his candidacy.
Moore’s supporters believe the strategy will work, especially after Trump broke his silence on the Alabama race last week. The president said Moore’s denial carries weight, urging voters to oppose Jones because the Democrat is too liberal and would oppose the Trump agenda.
“We’re very thankful that the president has made his comments,” said Dean Young, a close personal friend of Moore’s and one of his top advisers. “I do think it will help, because the difference between these candidates are night and day, and the last thing the country needs is a liberal Democrat that will fight the president’s agenda.”