Trump's Strange days in Alabama Senate primary
Next week's Alabama Republican primary vote has the potential to demonstrate the limits of President Trump's control over the voting behavior of his base. The POTUS has swung his weight behind Senator Luther Strange, the sitting interim replacement for Jeff Sessions in the Senate, who lags in the polls to Judge Roy Moore. This headline says it all: "Republicans watching to see how much Trump's endorsement worth in Alabama Senate race."
One sign of realism via Jeff Poor of Breitbart:
Friday, President Donald Trump will appear in Huntsville, AL to promote the candidacy of Luther Strange, who is competing in a runoff election for the Republican Party's nomination for the Alabama U.S. Senate special election.
But it won't be at the same venue in Huntsville that Trump received the endorsement of Jeff Sessions on the eve of Alabama's 2016 GOP presidential primary. Instead, Trump's appearance will be at the smaller Von Braun Center in downtown Huntsville, 10 miles east of Madison City Stadium, the site of his 2016 event.
According to the Von Braun Center's website, its Propst Arena has a maximum capacity of 9,000. At Trump's 2016 rally, estimates were much higher.
White House aides told Breitbart News they were worried about turning out a large crowd size for Trump, given they know the president has already given his endorsement and that he and the Vice President Mike Pence are campaigning for the establishment candidate against the presumed anti-establishment candidate former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Strange, formerly the elected A.G. of Alabama, was appointed by then-governor Robert J. Bentley, who subsequently resigned his office following a sex scandal.
Strike one for Strange. No coattails from a sitting governor's machine.
Strange is strongly backed by Mitch McConnell, which is strike two for populist conservatives who detest the swamp in D.C. Judge Roy Moore appears to be more of a principled conservative, inclined to take a strong stand, and therefore would be a pain for McConnell to deal with.
That brings us to strike three.
Breitbart, once again headed by Steve Bannon, is full of articles (see here, here, here, here, here, for instance) detailing and discussing the somewhat swampy-looking deals of the sitting Senator's Strange past.
A partner in the Alabama law firm whose members and political action committee donated $28,000 to the 2017 Senate campaign of Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) represented a real estate development company in which Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) has a 13 percent interest in a sweetheart deal that put over $100,000 of sales tax revenue paid by customers at the McGowin Park retail center in Mobile, Alabama in the pocket of the junior senator from Tennessee in 2016.
Not illegal, but it looks like back-scratching. Tax concessions to encourage real estate development are commonplace. In The Art of the Deal, Trump brags about seeking and getting them. But to some people, they reek of corruption in principle, because elected officials should not be handing out favors.
Redolent of the hot issue of immigration:
Sen. Luther Strange's (R-AL) effort to paint himself as the true immigration hawk in the GOP primary campaign for a full term as the Yellowhammer State's U.S. senator continued to flounder Wednesday in the face of reports Strange is a major stakeholder in a firm that profits from the issuance of visas to rich, mostly Chinese, foreign investors.
Reports rolled in Tuesday of Strange's one-sixth ownership in Sunbelt EB-5 Regional Center, LLC, a firm that solicits big money foreign investors to put $500,000 to $1 million dollars into projects in the American Southeast in exchange for "golden visas" for themselves and their families. Huntsville, Alabama, CBS affiliate WHNT later reported that Strange profited to the tune of $150,000 from a single EB-5-funded hospital expansion project in Birmingham, AL.
Again, this is legal but looks bad to some. Who is harmed by letting rich people get visas in return for investment in the U.S.?
On a net basis, visas to investors probably create jobs. Canada has had such a program allowing immigration on a substantial scale. Entrepreneurs who become job-creators and real estate investors, who buy property that they use as part-time residences, reserving the right to stay, are highly visible, especially in Toronto and Vancouver. The biggest downside is that real estate prices can be driven to unaffordable levels, as in Vancouver.
But once again, the government is handing out favors to people who make money off of it.
President Trump, who raised money for lots of projects, and who takes pride in using every advantage the law gives him, is probably not uncomfortable with it.
"Big Luther" Strange may be a man President Trump can work with. Indeed, until he has a replacement sworn in after the November election, President Trump needs Senator Luther Strange's support.
My guess is that he will lose very few of his supporters over his backing of Strange should Moore win.