Trump rescinds Brooks endorsement in Senate race in Alabama

FILE - Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ark., speaks Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, at a rally in support of President Donald Trump called the "Save America Rally." Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, rescinded his endorsement of Brooks in Alabama's U.S. Senate race. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday rescinded his endorsement of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks in Alabama's Republican primary for Senate, dealing a major blow to the congressman's campaign.

In a statement, Trump cited Brooks' languishing performance in the race and his attempt to move Republicans beyond Trump's false 2020 election fraud claims. The former president said he will make another endorsement in the “near future.”

“Very sad but, since he decided to go in another direction, so have I, and I am hereby withdrawing my Endorsement of Mo Brooks for the Senate," Trump said.

Brooks responded that he had not changed at all, and he accused Trump of dropping him for rebuffing the former president's entreaties — coming as recently as last week — to help overturn the 2020 election.

“He wanted the election rescinded and a do-over," Brooks told reporters in Alabama. “But there’s no legal way to do it.”

Trump has been frustrated for months as Brooks has failed to gain traction in the May 24 primary and has trailed in polling. By withdrawing the endorsement, Trump sought to stave off the embarrassment of backing a losing candidate in a high-profile race. Trump, who often brags about his endorsement record, sees it as a reflection of his power in the Republican Party as he mulls another presidential run in 2024.

Trump's picks have struggled in other races, too.

The Senate candidate he originally endorsed in Pennsylvania, Sean Parnell, dropped out amid allegations of abuse from his ex-wife. In North Carolina, Trump's Senate pick, Rep. Ted Budd, has failed to make a splash. In Georgia, former Sen. David Perdue is trailing Gov. Brian Kemp, one of Trump's top 2022 targets, in the gubernatorial primary campaign.

Trump first endorsed Brooks last April, more than a year before the Alabama primary, rewarding the conservative firebrand who whipped up a crowd of Trump supporters at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Brooks has since found himself in a tough race with two formidable opponents: Katie Britt, the former head of a state business group, and Mike Durant, a businessman best known as the helicopter pilot shot down and held prisoner in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident.

The GOP primary in the conservative state will likely decide who succeeds GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, who's retiring. Britt previously served as Shelby’s chief of staff.

Brooks, who voted against certifying President Joe Biden's victory, said in a statement that he knew he might lose Trump's endorsement by saying the 2020 election could not be overturned.

“President Trump has asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency. As a lawyer, I have repeatedly advised President Trump that January 6 was the final election contest verdict and neither the United States Constitution nor the United States code permit what President Trump asks. Period,” Brooks said Wednesday at a town hall in a diner in Hueytown, Alabama.

“I’ve told President Trump the truth knowing full well that it might cause President Trump to rescind his endorsement. But I took a sworn oath to defend and protect the United States Constitution. I honor my oath," he said, drawing applause from the roughly two dozen people gathered.

He told reporters that Trump had talked about getting the election rescinded in conversations with him as recently as last week, when the two last spoke.

At the “Stop the Steal” rally before the storming of the Capitol, Brooks had spoken in incendiary language, telling the crowd that “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Trump on Wednesday accused Brooks, one of the most conservative members of Congress, of going “woke” for saying at an August rally that it was time to move on from the 2020 presidential race and focus on upcoming elections.

“When I heard his statement, I said, ‘Mo, you just blew the Election, and there’s nothing you can do about it,’” Trump said.

The six-term congressman laughed at the characterization.

“Anybody with a brain the size of a pea or larger in the state of Alabama knows that Mo Brooks may be a lot of things, but woke or liberal ain’t them,” he said.

Trump hadn't told him in advance that he would be pulling the endorsement, Brooks said.

“If it’d been me, I would have called someone to give them a heads-up. I think that’s the gentlemanly thing to do. But that’s me," he said.

Trump had told the Washington Examiner last week that he was disappointed in Brooks’ performance and was mulling backing another candidate because, he claimed, Brooks had “changed.”

“It’s a very tight race between the three of them right now, and I’m not particularly happy,” he told the newspaper.

Trump invited Britt and her husband, Wesley Britt, a former lineman for the New England Patriots, to meet with him at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate last month, according to a person who was familiar with the visit but not authorized to speak about it publicly. Trump also met with Durant on Monday in Florida, according to another person who spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm the private meeting.

Both Britt and Durant have a cash advantage over Brooks. Britt has raised nearly $5 million. Durant has loaned his campaign $4 million, while Brooks has reported $2.1 million in contributions.

Brooks has leaned heavily on his Trump connection throughout the race. His campaign signs refer to him as “MAGA Mo” in reference to the former president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. He appeared with a life-size poster of him and Trump at one recent campaign stop.

On Wednesday, however, the poster was gone.

While Trump's endorsement withdrawal is a major loss to the Brooks campaign, the former president's backing hasn't always guaranteed success in Alabama.

In 2017, Trump endorsed Luther Strange in the GOP primary for Jeff Sessions' Senate seat, but Strange lost to Roy Moore. In the general election, Trump backed Moore, who was contesting sexual misconduct allegations and lost to Democrat Doug Jones.

Mark S. Lemsky, a 66-year-old retiree who attended Brooks' town hall on Wednesday, said he was sticking with the congressman despite Trump's rescinded endorsement.

“I’ll vote for Trump when it’s his time (for me) to get to pull the lever, and I’ll vote for Mo come May 24th," he said, explaining that, of all the candidates, Democrats seemed most opposed to Brooks.

“If the enemy hates that guy, there’s my guy," said Lemsky, of Oak Grove.

As for Trump's decision? “I thought Trump was wrong when he fired Jeff Sessions. I thought he was wrong when he took his endorsement away from Mo," he said. “But I’ll still vote for Trump if he runs again.”

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Colvin reported from New York.