-- Despite delivering a meandering, hour-and-a-half-long speech that touched on the NFL, Kim Jong Un and his wife's stilettos, President Donald Trump drove home the message he intended to bring to Alabama: Sen. Luther Strange is his choice in Tuesday’s runoff election.
But the president also made clear he’s aware of the stakes for himself in this race, which pits the establishment-backed Strange against Judge Roy Moore, an outspoken conservative who’s leading in most polls and has garnered the support of former Trump officials like Steve Bannon.
"I might have made a mistake, I’ll be honest," Trump said, fully aware of how the race has drawn national attention as a proxy war between the political influence of the Trump and Bannon camps.
"If Luther doesn't win, they're not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They're going to say, 'Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump. This is total embarrassment.'"
But Trump insisted that despite what he said was his political peril in getting involved, he chose to endorse and campaign for Strange because the senator is committed to pursuing the president’s agenda. Trump singled out his request for support on the Senate’s first attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare and Strange not asking for anything in return.
"I said, 'Senator, I need your help. I gotta get your vote on health care.' He said, 'You got it,'" Trump said, sounding as if he was still amazed at how easy it was to whip Strange.
"I went home and told my wife, 'That’s the coolest thing that’s happened to me in six months!'" he exclaimed.
The president also told the crowd at the packed Von Braun Center, which seats 10,000, that Strange was not, as his political detractors have tried to cast him, a creature of the so-called "swamp" that Trump wants to drain. He rejected the notion that Strange has any relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite the fact that a McConnell-backed outside group has poured millions of dollars into Strange's campaign.
"He's not a friend of Mitch McConnell. He doesn't know Mitch McConnell," Trump said.
Despite Trump's embrace of Strange, the president also said he told the candidate that if he does lose Tuesday’s runoff, he will “be here campaigning like hell for [Moore].”
Several rally-goers seemed fine with that notion. Many were outright Moore supporters, and had simply come to the event to see Trump, whom they largely still support enthusiastically.
Others said they were voting for Strange simply because Trump endorsed him, and that if Trump ended up campaigning for Moore, should he win the runoff, they too would vote for him.