Trump gets sacked in Alabama

Whatever else you want to say about him, our president is smarter than a lot of analysts think, particularly when it comes to intuiting the single largest shift in the culture. Donald Trump gets that our faith in all-powerful organizations has so completely deteriorated that he can win points and ratings by bashing even the most sacred institutions, as long as he doesn’t go after the people who rely on them.

So when Trump rips into generals, or the pope, or now the lords of professional football (whom he accuses, among other things, of trying too hard to prevent brain damage), all the commentators in my industry jump up and down and scream about how he’s courting political suicide. But soldiers and Catholics and Cowboys fans react pretty much as Trump expects them to.

Those who love the provocateur president only love him more for his audacity. Those who hate him only give him more attention. And to most everyone else, the argument over whether to trust Trump or some cloistered group of elites is pretty much a wash.

Which is why Trump’s foray into this week’s Senate primary in Alabama struck me as uncharacteristically unintuitive. Rather than kicking around the beleaguered establishment, as he usually does, Trump tried to shore it up. And the consequences of that for his troubled presidency could be severe.

Generally speaking, I’m skeptical of the outsize importance we tend to place on midcycle campaigns like the one in Alabama. We always look to some special election for Congress or the off-year governors’ races in Virginia and New Jersey — the first two that occur after a presidential election — for signs of the national mood.

As often as not, the outcomes reflect nothing, really, beyond local issues and the skill sets of a few candidates we know nothing about. For all the talk about testing a president’s prestige and popularity, rarely does the White House have much ability to sway a local election more than a few points in either direction.

But perceptions matter in politics, and Trump probably should have thought about that more deeply before he plunged into the Alabama race. For whatever reason — maybe he was trying to do a solid for Mitch McConnell, or maybe he just liked this guy — Trump felt compelled to campaign for Luther Strange, who inherited the Senate seat after Jeff Sessions became attorney general.

Meanwhile, most of Trump’s supporters (including his erstwhile alter ego, Steve Bannon) got behind Roy Moore, a former…

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