Less than a week after making clear that he would not go to Alabama to campaign for embattled Senate nominee Roy Moore, President Donald Trump is doing the next best thing: He’s going to Pensacola, Florida, to hold a campaign event next Friday – just four days before the December 12 special election.
Pensacola – for you amateur geographers out there – is 25 miles from the Alabama border. It’s closer to the capital of Alabama (164 miles to Montgomery) than it is to the capital of Florida (196 miles to Tallahassee). And the Pensacola-Mobile media market reaches more than 15% of the state.
So while Trump won’t technically set foot in Alabama, he is doing everything but. Which, when you consider Trump and his political persona, is not surprising in the least.
For most politicians, Moore would be totally and completely toxic at this point. He has been accused by several women of pursuing inappropriate sexual relationships with them when they were between 14 and 19 and he was in his early 30s. A bevy of Republican elected officials – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – have disavowed Moore and said they believe the allegations made by the women.
Moore has denied all of these accusations, insisting that he has never met any of the women. After an initial dip in polls following the revelations, Moore appears to have recovered, with most available data suggesting he now has a narrow edge over Democrat Doug Jones.
When the Moore news initially broke, Trump was in the midst of his 12-day Asia trip and offered no comment. He spent nearly a week after he returned to Washington avoiding questions about whether he still supported Moore and whether he would call on the Alabama nominee to drop out.
Then, Trump said this about Moore just before Thanksgiving: “If you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.”
Days later, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made clear that despite his unwillingness to walk away from Moore, Trump wouldn’t be campaigning for him. “The President is not planning any trip to Alabama at this time,” she said. “Frankly, his schedule doesn’t permit him doing anything between now and Election Day.”
Guess that schedule freed up!
While Trump’s Pensacola rally won’t be specifically for Moore, the proximity of Pensacola to the Alabama border – and the attention Trump’s trip will draw – is sure to rev up the pro-Trump conservatives Moore will need to turn out on December 12.
If you think this is all just one big coincidence, consider: a) Trump could hold a rally absolutely anywhere in the country but just happened to pick Pensacola four days before the Alabama special and b) There are no coincidences in politics.
Plus: Trump sees a kindred spirit in Moore. Like Trump, the political establishment mocked Moore as a wild outsider. Like Trump, Moore won. Like Trump, Moore is a fighter against political correctness. Like Trump, Moore faces a series of accusations about inappropriate sexual behavior with women that he has denied. Like Trump, Moore is portraying himself as a victim of a biased liberal media.
In short: Roy Moore, politically speaking, is exactly the kind of politician Trump likes.
So, sure, Trump is going to campaign for Moore – even if he’s not, technically, doing so. This trip, like so much of what Trump does, exists with just enough gray area, just enough plausible deniability that he can get away with it. After all, he’s never even going to set foot in Alabama! How can you say he is campaigning for Moore!
It’s a wink and a nod by Trump. Which is what he does.