GOP hopes Alabama loss is wakeup call for White House

Zeke Miller
Associated Press

Washington – President Donald Trump managed to endorse two different losing candidates in the same Senate race, a setback that is highlighting an experience deficit within the White House political team.

“As the leader of the party, I would have liked to have had the seat,” Trump acknowledged Wednesday, a day after a special Senate election in Alabama led to the election of Democrat Doug Jones.

Republicans in Washington and around the country say a bungled approach to the race — in which the president wagered his party’s moral authority with nothing to show for it — should serve as a wakeup call for the administration going into what is sure to be a challenging midterm election year.

“This White House is not working on all cylinders,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush.

Trump originally supported Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary, but he lost to Roy Moore. Trump then stuck with Moore in the race against Jones even after the Republican was hit with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

There is growing sentiment both inside the West Wing and around the nation’s capital that there’s a shortage of political know-how in the upper echelon of the administration. The Alabama defeat has some inside the White House hoping for a moment of reckoning with the president.

Trump may have proven the pundit class wrong with his surprise win last November, but even inside the White House there is growing recognition that Trump may need their help in office.

Trump himself was the driver of the decision to re-engage in the Alabama race on behalf of Moore, according to people familiar with the decision. He had only begrudgingly supported the Republican National Committee’s decision to pull out of the race. Some longtime aides said it was the first time they had come to question his political instincts, which served him so well in the past.

Since the summer departures of Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, Trump has been without an in-house senior political adviser, roles filled in previous administrations by household names like David Axelrod and Karl Rove.

Trump, current and former aides said, has been focused more on shoring up his own image for his 2020 re-election than on the midterms next year. Friends and allies have sought to convince Trump of the need to invest time and resources into helping down-ballot Republicans in November, warning that Democratic control comes with subpoena power for congressional investigatory committees.