Posted: 9:37 pm Tuesday, September 26th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
After throwing in the towel on a last-ditch effort in the Senate to overhaul the Obama health law, Republican leaders had to endure what turned into a triple political gut punch on Tuesday, as Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) was soundly defeated in a GOP runoff election in Alabama, not long after Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) stunned colleagues by announcing that he would not run for re-election in 2018.
Strange was soundly defeated by conservative Republican Roy Moore, a familiar political player in the Yellowhammer State, well known for his fight over a Ten Commandments monument, and a more recent controversy over his refusal to accept court orders that invalidated Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages, a fracas that forced him to resign as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
It was a big win for Republicans who are convinced that one major impediment to the success of the party is the GOP Establishment.
“This is basically the burn-it-down wing saying, ‘Can you hear me now?'” said one-time GOP operative Liam Donovan, who said Moore is certainly drawing from the same sense of outrage that President Donald Trump tapped into among Republican voters in 2016.
1. GOP effort to repeal Obamacare dies
2. Corker retires
3. Moore wins
Today was not a good day for Senate leaders.
— James Wallner (@jiwallner) September 27, 2017
“Moore couldn’t have less in common with Trump, and yet the impulses driving their primary supporters are uncanny,” Donovan said on Twitter.
The Moore victory though was also a setback for President Trump, who surprised many in the first place by endorsing Strange, who already had the strong support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Moore could be seen by some as more of the insurgent, outsider kind of candidate, that Trump might embrace, ready to shake things up in Washington, D.C.
“I’ll be honest,” the President said last Friday night at a rally for Strange in Huntsville, “I might have made a mistake,” a statement that many saw as a signal that he would happily support Moore as well.
“Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama,” the President tweeted after Moore had been declared the winner.
Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones on December 12; the winner will fill the unexpired term that originally belonged to Jeff Sessions, who left the seat to become U.S. Attorney General.
Congratulations to @MooreSenate on his impressive victory tonight.
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 27, 2017
Lesson from Alabama: the primary beatings will continue until morale improves, which requires a new Senate GOP leader.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) September 27, 2017
While the victory by Moore had been sinking in as a possibility for days, the Corker retirement had been rumored, but still came as a surprise to many Republicans in the Senate, where the Tennessee Republican had become a strong presence as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Serving the people of Tennessee in this capacity has been the greatest privilege of my life,” Corker said in a statement, as he reminded people that he had originally said he “couldn’t imagine serving more than two terms.”
Corker has played a central role among GOP Senators in trying to deal with President Trump, playing golf with him, meeting with him, speaking to him on the phone, all in an effort to smooth out some of the rough policy edges that Republicans have seen on the foreign policy front.
At times, it didn’t work out that well, as Corker publicly expressed his frustration with Mr. Trump.
“The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker said in August to reporters in his home state, expressing frustration over how Mr. Trump reacted to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“He will be sorely missed in the Senate,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
I'm sad to learn that @SenBobCorker will not run again in 2018. He has been a friend to me and an effective representative for Tennessee.
— Johnny Isakson (@SenatorIsakson) September 26, 2017
Unlike Strange, who will leave the Senate by Christmas, Corker will serve out his term, which runs through 2018.
In a statement, Corker made clear he still has work to do.
“I also believe the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months,” Corker said in a statement.
Those same 15 months could be an interesting time for GOP leaders in Congress as well – along with lawmakers up for re-election next year – as they may face more insurgent candidates from inside their own party, and possibly news of other Republicans who decide not to run again in 2018.