By Ryan Pelosky ’21
President Donald Trump’s former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been defeated by former Auburn University head football coach, Tommy Tuberville, in Alabama’s Republican Senate primary by 21 points.
Sessions, 73, was one of President Trump’s first outspoken supporters (Sessions was the first senator to endorse him) and also served as the Trump administration’s first Attorney General of the United States. Many have accused Sessions of being an outspoken racist—he once stated that the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I learned they smoked pot,” and, on a separate occasion, proclaimed that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were “communist-inspired.” His policies and actions while in office demonstrate a hard-line conservative platform: Sessions has advocated for less federal oversight of police departments, orchestrated Trump’s immigrant family separation policies, supported the expansion of the private prison industry, and called upon sanctuary cities to cease evading federal law enforcement. At a law enforcement conference in 2018, Sessions stated, “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”
Tuberville, 65, has spent his entire career in collegiate football; after playing safety at Southern Arkansas University, Tuberville received his degree and immediately became an assistant coach at Hermitage High School in Hermitage, Arkansas. Since then, he has coached at Arkansas State University, the University of Miami (FL), Texas A&M University, the University of Mississippi, Auburn University, Texas Tech University, and the University of Cincinnati. Tuberville’s best season was his 2004 undefeated year at Auburn, which perhaps explains part of his popularity and likeability (Auburn University is situated in eastern Alabama). Tuberville’s only non-football professional experience is at a hedge fund business, which was accused of fraud in 2013—John David Stroud, Tuberville’s associate at TS Capital, LLC, was convicted of securities fraud, while Tuberville settled with allegedly defrauded investors outside of court with terms undisclosed.
However, what may begin to explain such an outcome is President Donald Trump’s personal vendetta against Sessions. Because no candidate earned more than 50% of the vote in the original primary (March 3, 2020), the race was forced to a runoff (July 14, 2020), which Tuberville won definitively. Trump endorsed Tuberville in the runoff and repeatedly bashed Sessions—he called Sessions a “disaster” in a July 14 tweet—despite requests from Alabama senior senator Richard Shelby for Trump not to be involved. Trump’s disdain for Sessions stems from Sessions’s self-recusal in March of 2017 from the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. During the race, Sessions called himself a friend and supporter of President Trump, but Trump publicly denounced Sessions’s support.
Tuberville’s media appearances were few and far between, and he repeatedly declined to debate Sessions as the primary and runoff dates neared. He ran a generally quiet campaign, with most of his attention coming from Trump’s own tweets.
Following the news, President Trump tweeted “A GREAT WIN!” in reference to Tuberville’s upset over the staunch and long-time Republican. Even as his popularity diminishes, Tuberville’s victory is also a testament to Trump’s lasting influence among his base. Tuberville is set to face off against incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), who won his seat in an upset in a 2017 special election. Per CNN, he is seen as the most vulnerable Senate Democrat seeking reelection in 2020. Many speculate that Tuberville, without any previous political experience, will find a new home on Capitol Hill this winter.
As Tuberville continues on to Alabama’s general election in November, Sessions returns home after failing to reclaim the same seat he held for twenty years before becoming Attorney General. According to most publications familiar with the matter, with such a defeat, Sessions is likely to retire from formal politics completely.