Former U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes candidate for U.S. Senate and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks to the stage during a “Save America” rally at York Family Farms on August 21, 2021 in Cullman, Alabama.
Former President Donald Trump is on the brink of withdrawing his endorsement from Alabama Senate hopeful Mo Brooks following a series of public and private missteps by the Republican congressman, including back-to-back statements this week in which Brooks declined to affirm Trump’s belief that the 2020 election result can be overturned.
“I am baffled by the view that we can do something right now to put Donald Trump into office today,” Brooks said in a local radio interview Thursday, one day after he told an Alabama newspaper there was no “legal” mechanism by which Trump could be reinstalled as president.
“Whoever is giving him that advice is misleading President Trump,” Brooks told AL.com.
While Trump has been seething over Brooks’ lackluster campaign performance for several months now, four people familiar with the situation told CNN that he has reached his breaking point and is weighing when and how he might pursue a course correction in the contentious Republican primary to succeed retiring Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby. Two of these people said a phone call that took place between Trump and Brooks earlier this week precipitated Trump’s decision to publicly criticize Brooks in an interview with the Washington Examiner that published Wednesday.
“He basically said, ‘What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you doing better?’ and Mo said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” recounted a person familiar with their conversation.
Trump endorsed Brooks last April, saying in a statement at the time that “few Republicans have as much courage and fight” as the Alabama congressman, who was the first House Republican to challenge the tally of Electoral College votes on January 6, 2021.
A person close to Trump, who told the Examiner that Brooks has been “disappointing,” said the former President felt that Brooks shrugged off his concerns during their most recent conversation and has been taking his endorsement for granted. Brooks is competing against Katie Britt, who served as chief of staff to Shelby and later became president of the Alabama Business Council, and US Army veteran Mike Durant, both of whom have benefited from heavy spending on their behalf from outside groups involved in the race.
Brooks has been “a bad candidate running a bad campaign,” said veteran GOP pollster Jim McLaughlin, a Trump campaign pollster who is not affiliated with any of the three candidates.
The dust-up with Brooks has left Trump in an uncomfortable position, said people close to the former President. On one hand, many of his top allies have strongly advised him against issuing a second endorsement in the race. They are fearful that it could dilute the power of his endorsement in other contests, making it less desirable in primaries where he hasn’t already chosen a candidate and causing long-term damage to his reputation as a kingmaker inside the Republican Party. On the other hand, Trump is highly sensitive about picking losing candidates and has become increasingly convinced that Brooks is not going to make it to the runoff contest that is likely to follow Alabama’s May 24 primary.
“He is definitely in a bind, and it’s one of the reasons why he wants to wait until the last minute to endorse in other races. This has been a lesson in the danger of an early endorsement,” one Trump adviser said.
The Brooks campaign disputed that the Alabama congressman is at risk of losing his Trump endorsement anytime soon, suggesting that he has several allies inside Trump’s orbit who may talk the former President out of co-endorsing another candidate or abandoning his support for Brooks.
“Mo Brooks has a lot of strong allies in the MAGA movement and a lot of allies who do have the President’s ear, and it’s a safe guess that Trump is going to have a lot of Mo Brooks’ friends going to bat for him,” a Brooks campaign aide said.
In a statement to CNN, Brooks campaign spokesman Will Hampson accused Britt’s campaign of circulating a poll commissioned by the Alabama Forestry Association (and conducted by McLaughlin’s firm) that showed Britt and Durant leading Brooks, in an effort to catch Trump’s attention. Hampson also said Brooks has embraced Trump’s false claims about massive voter fraud in the 2020 election and still has a May 4 fundraiser scheduled at Mar-a-Lago, which Brooks’ campaign touted to CNN.
On Thursday, Brooks also released his first ad of the cycle, claiming he is the only candidate in the race who stood with Trump “against voter fraud on January 6th.” However, neither of his competitor were serving in Congress at the time the House voted to certify the 2020 election results.
Brooks commits a ‘cardinal sin’
Trump has been irritated with Brooks’ messaging about 2020 ever since August, when the conservative congressman told a MAGA-friendly audience gathered for a Trump rally in Cullman, Alabama, that they should put the last presidential contest behind them. The comment garnered a cold reaction from the crowd and led to Trump griping privately to aides that Brooks embarrassed himself and the former President.
Over the next several months, as Trump watched Britt and Durant outraise his choice in the primary and was reminded of Brooks’ anti-Trump comments during the 2016 GOP presidential primary, he grew increasingly frustrated with the state of Brooks’ campaign. A person close to Trump said the former President backed off his criticism after Brooks shook up his campaign staff earlier this year but noted that Trump’s frustration returned after witnessing no discernible improvement over the course of several weeks.
“He feels he has been more than patient and that Mo hasn’t risen to the occasion despite many opportunities to do so,” the person close to Trump said.
It was the phone call earlier this week that finally put Trump over the edge, leaving him so frustrated with Brooks that he unloaded on the Alabama congressman in his comments to the Examiner, this person said.
“I’m disappointed that he gave an inarticulate answer and I’ll have to find out what he means,” Trump said, referring to Brooks’ comments about 2020 at the Cullman rally. “If it meant what he sounded like, I would have no problem changing [my endorsement] because when you endorse somebody, you endorse somebody based on principle.”
Trump continued, “If he changed that principle, I would have no problem doing that. I’m determining right now, has Mo Brooks — has he changed?”
Several aides and advisers were shocked late Wednesday when Brooks responded to Trump’s criticism by appearing to suggest that the former President was asking him to break the law “to remove Joe Biden from office so he can be president.”
In his interview with AL.com, Brooks said Trump was being told “that there are mechanisms by which he could have been returned to the White House in 2021 or in 2022, and it’s just not legal.”
“The law doesn’t permit that,” Brooks said.
Then, on Thursday, he reiterated in an interview with the “Alabama’s Morning News” podcast that Republicans “have to focus on the 2022 and 2024 elections.” Brooks also said he has not spoken to Trump since he publicly criticized him, adding that he was “totally baffled” by the former President’s comments.
One Trump adviser said Brooks committed a “cardinal sin” by suggesting that the the results of the 2020 election cannot be overturned, something Trump has remained fixated on since losing to now-President Joe Biden in November 2020. Even though this adviser and others in the former President’s orbit agree that there is no scenario in which Trump could be reinstated as president — in part because his claims of massive voter fraud have been repeatedly disproved in a number of states — the adviser said Brooks was saying “the quiet part out loud and it might cost him (Trump’s) support.”
One of Brooks’ top backers — the conservative Club for Growth — has stood by him even as his relationship with Trump has soured. In the hours after Brooks made the comments about the 2020 election on Wednesday, the group launched a new ad buy targeting Britt over her support for the 2019 state gas tax increase in Alabama when she was leading the Business Council. Reached by CNN on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the club said they did not have any further comment to add about Brooks or Trump’s criticism of him.
As he looks to turn his campaign around in the final two months of the Senate primary, Brooks will be joined next week by one MAGA heavyweight, Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has largely embraced Trump’s conspiracies about the 2020 election. The duo will host five events together across the state, according to the Brooks campaign aide.