The Slatest

Jeff Sessions’ Political Career Is Over

Jeff Sessions leaves after voting in the Alabama Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate at the Volunteers of America Southeast Chapter on July 14, 2020 in Mobile, Alabama.
Jeff Sessions leaves after voting in the Alabama Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate at the Volunteers of America Southeast Chapter on Tuesday in Mobile, Alabama. Michael DeMocker/Getty Images

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate for 20 years, will not be returning to his old seat.* He lost a runoff for the Republican Senate nomination on Tuesday night to former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in a blowout. Tuberville will go on to face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November. Sessions will go nowhere. His political career is over because President Donald Trump will be forever mad at him for recusing himself from, and not covering up, the Russia investigation in 2017.

Sessions’ return bid was painful to watch from the opening statement. After Trump humiliated Sessions nearly daily while he was attorney general and then fired him the morning after the 2018 midterm elections, Sessions introduced himself as a Senate candidate with fulsome praise of the president and his agenda, and a reiteration of his loyalty.

Trump kept his mouth shut through the opening round of the primary, recognizing that the first priority was ensuring that banned mall patron Roy Moore didn’t make it into the runoff. As soon as the contest headed to a runoff between Tuberville and Sessions, the president endorsed Tuberville and tweeted biliously against his former top legal official, who had been the first sitting senator to have endorsed him in 2016. Sessions finally began defending his honor against the president, occasionally, in May. It didn’t matter. Tuberville was up by about 20 points when the runoff campaign began and won by about 20 points.

And that was about the whole campaign, really. Tuberville ran ads about how Trump didn’t like Sessions; Sessions ran ads calling Tuberville not a True Conservative. Aspersions, either directly or indirectly, about each other’s manliness were mutually cast. Tuberville’s argument won out. Tuberville refused to debate, and his strategy of running out the clock on a lead worked.

Sessions went from an early, prominent Trump insider to a prized bug for Trump to squash because he was never in on the joke. He thought the whole Trump thing was about policy. In Trump, Sessions saw a vessel for the right-wing populist views that had made him a fringe actor within the Senate Republican conference, namely opposition to immigration of all varieties. Sessions thought Trump cared—like, really cared—about these things. Instead, he used them to acquire power and put Sessions in charge of the Justice Department primarily to shield him from threats to that power. If Sessions wanted to eliminate DACA while he was at Justice? Well yes, sure. But not after voluntarily ceding his power to protect Trump from an FBI investigation. Sessions got his dream job because he was loyal to Trump and then lost job, career, and dignity because, for a moment, he acted according to federal ethics. No need for a memoir either, Jeff. Everyone saw it.

Elsewhere Tuesday night, in the grand chess match that is American politics: The Senate Democratic establishment (BOO! HISS!) is poised to run the table this cycle, shepherding each candidate it wanted in competitive states through their respective primaries. Sara Gideon won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Maine and will face Sen. Susan Collins in November. MJ Hegar is leading Royce West for the Texas Democratic Senate nomination, and would face Sen. John Cornyn in November. Former West Wing doctor Ronny “Candyman” Johnson is poised to win a GOP runoff for a Texas House seat, and our old pal Pete Sessions—no relation to the wretched Jeff—is on track to return to Congress from a new, more conservative Texas district than the suburban Dallas district in which he lost his 2018 reelection bid.

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Correction, July 15, 2020: This post originally misstated how long Sessions served in the Senate. It was 20 years, not 22.