For Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, a lot has changed in four years

Senate hopeful expects criticism of his past Trump comments to ‘fall on deaf ears’

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks is running to succeed retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks is running to succeed retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 23, 2021 at 2:02pm

Four years ago, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks jumped into a crowded special election to replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions and was bombarded with criticism about his loyalty to President Donald Trump. He finished third in the Republican primary.

Brooks launched another Senate bid Monday night, and he expects this race to be different after serving as an aggressive Trump advocate who had urged supporters to “start taking down names and kicking ass” before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

“We’re starting in first,” Brooks said in a Tuesday interview.

Brooks, who has represented the 5th District in North Alabama since 2011, said he is “cautiously optimistic” he will have Trump’s support in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby. Brooks said he has spoken with Trump “a number of times” over the last month but declined to discuss the content of those calls.

Also vying for Trump’s backing in the GOP primary is Lynda Blanchard, who served under him as U.S. ambassador to Slovenia. Brooks and Blanchard are the first two high-profile Republicans in the race, but the field could grow. 

Stephen Miller, a former Trump aide who also worked for Sessions, endorsed Brooks at his campaign rally Monday night in Huntsville, Ala.

“Nobody over the last four years has had President Trump’s back more than Mo Brooks,” Miller told the crowd.  

While Miller’s endorsement is notable, all eyes will be on Trump.

“If Trump put his stamp on anybody, it would help them right now,” Shelby told reporters Monday. Shelby said he does not currently have plans to endorse anyone in the race, before adding, “We’ll see how it plays out.” 

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An anti-Trump past

Brooks has been an outspoken Trump ally, particularly after the November 2020 election. He was the first House member to say he would object to certifying a handful of state’s Electoral College results, which he referenced in his speech Monday by decrying what he described as “the worst voter fraud and election theft in history.” 

Brooks said he plans to continue to talk about the 2020 election in his Senate campaign, despite the debunked claims of widespread fraud, a string of unsuccessful lawsuits from the Trump campaign, and cybersecurity officials and election administrators stressing that the election was conducted fairly and securely. Brooks criticized states’ expansion of mail and absentee voting due to the pandemic, alleging votes cast under those systems were “illegal ballots.” 

Although Brooks has been at the center of the fight in Congress over the 2020 election, he hasn’t always been a Trump stalwart. In 2016, he supported Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in the presidential race and sharply criticized candidate Trump. 

Those comments were used against Brooks in his 2017 Senate race to succeed Sessions. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, which was backing appointed Sen. Luther Strange, spent $14.8 million against Brooks using clips of him telling MSNBC, “I don’t think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says” and that Trump supporters would regret backing him. 

“Brooks is going to have to outrun his 2016 comments about Trump because his opponents are going to remind voters daily of his original opposition to the President,” Alabama GOP strategist Brent Buchanan wrote in an email. Politico reported that a dark money group had already paid for trucks in Alabama that display Brooks’ past comments.. 

Brooks expects his primary opponents to bring up those comments this time as well, but he said claims that he does not support Trump “will fall on deaf ears.” 

Asked what changed his mind about Trump, Brooks said, “Once Donald Trump was sworn in, he did the best he could in fighting the evils of socialism, in trying to secure our border, in trying to rebuild America's military, in trying to allow American citizens to keep more of their hard-earned money. Those are all good things.”

Perry Hooper, who co-chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alabama, said in an interview that Brooks has proved he’s an ally of the former president’s. 

“There’s no question about that,” Hooper said. Hooper is supporting Blanchard in the primary, citing their personal friendship and her early support for Trump.  

A different race

One key question is whether Brooks will once again face a barrage of negative television ads. Those could come from Blanchard herself, a wealthy real estate executive who has pledged to spend at least $5 million of her own money on the race. Her campaign started running television ads this month.

Other Republicans could also jump in the race, including Katie Boyd Britt, Shelby’s former chief of staff, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and former congressional candidate Jessica Taylor. Some Alabama Republicans believe Boyd Britt would likely have Shelby’s backing if she enters the primary. 

Alabama’s other GOP senator, Tommy Tuberville, told CQ Roll Call on Monday that he does not plan to endorse in the primary. Tuberville’s consultants from his 2020 campaign are working with Blanchard. 

It’s not clear if the SLF and McConnell’s allies will once again take sides in a primary. Unlike in 2017, there is no Republican incumbent to protect this time. A source familiar with the SLF said the group’s priority is to ensure the Alabama seat remains in Republican hands, and it will likely back the eventual GOP nominee. 

That nominee would be heavily favored in the ruby-red state, which Trump carried by 26 points last fall.

Brooks has rankled some members of his own party, particularly for his speech at a rally near the White House on Jan. 6, shortly before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a bid to prevent the 2020 election certification. CNN reported that some House Republicans weighed stripping Brooks of his committee assignments for his remarks. 

In his Jan. 6 speech, Brooks said, “Regardless of today’s outcome, the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner. … As such, today is important in another way. Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” 

Brooks on Tuesday defended his remarks as a “great rally speech.”

“Any rational person with a brain the size of a pea or larger knows, having read my speech, that it did not in any way, shape or form inspire anyone to commit violence at the United States Capitol,” he said.

Brooks did say in his Jan. 6 speech, “Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives, to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you — are you willing to do the same?” 

Asked how that portion of his speech related to upcoming elections, Brooks said, “It relates to a comparison of what our ancestors have done, the sacrifices that they have made. … And, by golly, the least we should be able to do in comparison to what our ancestors have done is fight in our election processes to win these elections.”

Brooks dodged when asked about a ProPublica report that detailed his references to potential violence after the election. Brooks said history shows that violence often follows takeovers by socialist regimes.

“If the socialists do what they have done in other countries, the socialists will end up exterminating those who are freedom-loving individuals,” he said. “It has happened before, and our task is to avoid it.”

Brooks’ role in the election fight has raised his national profile, which could benefit his Senate campaign by boosting his name recognition beyond his northern Alabama base. 

A higher profile could also boost his fundraising. In 2017, he struggled to raise enough money to combat the negative ads blanketing the airwaves. 

Brooks said his 2022 Senate campaign will have “significantly more financial capability,” in part because he has more time to ramp up a campaign. He also added, “National conservatives are going to jump on our team.” 

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.