HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Maybe Rep. Mo Brooks was onto something when he urged grassroots Republicans to move past their disappointment with former President Donald Trump’s defeat in 2020 and “look forward” to the midterm elections. It sure worked for Katie Britt.
Britt brought Brooks’s political career to an ignominious end Tuesday, soundly defeating the congressman in a primary runoff contest to win the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama. Britt, the 40-year-old former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), beat Brooks, 68, by executing a future-oriented campaign focused on key voter priorities such as inflation, illegal immigration, and China.
By a wide margin, Alabama Republicans found her message preferable to Brooks’s near-singular fixation on Trump, who endorsed and then unendorsed the congressman, and especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Brooks blames McConnell and his deep-pocketed allies, who spent millions to defeat the congressman, for his loss after his Senate campaign began last June with so much promise.
“Mo has always been his own worst enemy. He still runs every campaign like it’s 1982 and he’s running for the state House for the first time. Politics changed and Mo never did,” said Alex Schriver, a Republican operative in Washington who previously served as chief of staff to an Alabama congressman who has since retired.
“Campaigns and candidates matter,” Schriver added. “Katie Britt ran an excellent race tactically, organizationally, and strategically.”
Britt spent election night with supporters in Montgomery, the state capital. Brooks held an election night party at a gun range in Huntsville, the anchor of the 5th Congressional District he has represented since 2011, hoping for an upset in an extremely low turnout runoff.
Alabama is a ruby-red state. Grassroots Republicans here are particularly fond of Trump and generally hostile toward McConnell.
And so, Brooks’s campaign message was dominated by the promotion of his early endorsement from Trump and his tacit support for ousting McConnell as the top Senate Republican, an effort driven by the former president. Only once, while delivering a speech during a Trump rally in Alabama, did Brooks suggest Republicans look beyond 2020 and concentrate on winning congressional majorities in 2022 and recapturing the White House in 2024. Amid a smattering of boos, Brooks backtracked.
“All right, well, look back at it, but go forward and take advantage of it,” he said sheepishly last August. Brooks, who appeared with Trump at a rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, and led the charge to oppose certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, went back to respecting the former president’s preoccupation with his unsupported claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
The Britt campaign calculated early on that it was futile to chase Republican voters who prioritized whether a candidate was endorsed by Trump or vowed to answer the former president’s call to oust McConnell as the top Senate Republican. They were virtually guaranteed to vote for Brooks, a conservative insurgent who has hugged Trump tight since the populist 45th president was elected in 2016.
Instead, Britt put a premium on winning over the rest of the Republican electorate. This broader pool of voters values support for Trump and his “America first” agenda but is attracted to future-oriented candidates who talk about getting things done in Washington to improve their quality of life. It worked.
By the time Trump yanked his support for Brooks in March, amid his precipitous slide, Britt had climbed from 4% in public opinion polling at the outset of her campaign and surpassed the congressman on her way to earning 45% and a first-place finish in the May 24 primary. By the opening of the polls Tuesday morning in the runoff, Britt was headed for a comfortable victory.
“So, what we did is, we went and talked about the issues people wanted to talk about, the things that they are dealing with,” Britt told reporters in Montgomery, taking a veiled shot at Brooks just before casting her ballot. “Too often, career politicians come down and lecture us instead of actually listen, and we built this campaign off of listening to people.”
Britt’s nomination to succeed Shelby amounts to quite a fall for Brooks, who gave up his safe, northern Alabama House seat to run for Senate in what first appeared to be a sure thing. Despite backing from her old boss and GOP insiders in Washington and across Alabama, few Republicans gave Britt a chance to come from behind and beat Brooks after he received Trump’s endorsement. Even many Britt supporters were doubtful.
But Republicans who followed this race, and Brooks’s nearly 12-year career on Capitol Hill, are not necessarily surprised and say the congressman only has himself to blame.
“I think people saw Mo for what he is,” said Donnie Chesteen, a state senator who represents a southeastern Alabama district in the legislature and backed Britt. “Mo has been there forever, and he’s had a, what — post office renamed? That’s not effective leadership to me.”
Brooks founded the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative insurgents and Trump loyalists in Congress who often pushed their GOP colleagues to embrace more uncompromising legislation. In that capacity, the congressman was at the forefront of many national issues to come before the House.
But the often-cantankerous Brooks seemed to view the nuts and bolts of politics with contempt.
He did not establish many relationships, did not seem to enjoy interacting with voters, and accumulated few resources. By the conclusion of the campaign, Britt had visited all 67 Alabama counties. Brooks had not. Meanwhile, he appeared to have a lot more to say about Trump, positive, negative, then positive again, then negative again, than he did about his solution for reducing skyrocketing inflation.
“The guy has an unhealthy relationship with Trump,” said a Republican strategist who opposed Brooks’s candidacy. “He trashes him, begs for forgiveness, gets back in his good graces, manages to fall back out of favor, then trashes him again.”
“He did not run a campaign,” added a veteran Republican consultant. “He did not raise money. He did not advertise. He just believed that Trump’s endorsement by itself would be all he needs. He’s just a complete goofball.”