Trump-endorsed Republican Rep. Mo Brooks is shaking up his Alabama Senate campaign after a rough few months, his new campaign staff told VICE News. He has hired a new team—including one staffer who’s previously blasted Trump.
Brooks was the first congressman to say he’d object to certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory in Congress, and spoke at then-President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. Trump rewarded Brooks with an early Senate endorsement that made Brooks the early frontrunner in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby. But it’s all been downhill from there.
Brooks fired his original campaign consultants, Jon Jones and Terry Allen, a few weeks ago.
“The polls have changed so I understand. Sometimes the candidates feel they need to go in a different direction,” Jones told VICE News Thursday night. “I left on very amicable terms.”
Trump has reportedly regretted endorsing Brooks, frustrated at his campaign struggles.
Brooks’ new team includes Trafalgar Polling’s Robert Cahaly, as senior adviser, former Republican National Committee digital strategist Ethan Elion will serve as a strategist, and Forrest Barnwell-Hagemeyer, who helped on Brooks’ 2017 Senate campaign and more recently managed Manny Sethi’s unsuccessful Tennessee Senate race in 2020.
The campaign’s media consultant and admaker will be Fred Davis, John McCain’s 2008 ad man and John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign adviser who has Alabama experience working for retiring Sen. Richard Shelby’s last campaign. Davis has made some brilliant ads as well as some of the most widely mocked in recent campaign history (check out “I’m Not a Witch” and “Demon Sheep”).
But if Brooks’ campaign shakeup is aimed at pleasing the former president, he picked an odd person to run his race.
Forrest Barnwell-Hagemeyer has shared a lot of criticism of Trump, calling him a “short-fingered vulgarian” in 2016 among other insults. And in the wake of the 2020 election, he approvingly shared Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s post in which Sasse attacked Trumpers’ efforts to overturn Trump’s election loss. “Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of American government,” Barnwell-Hagemeyer quoted Sasse in a post on Facebook.
Barnwell-Hagemeyer dismissed questions about whether his past criticism of Trump could be a problem for his new boss.
“I voted for President Trump in 2016 and 2020 and wish he was in the White House right now,” he said.
For his part, Brooks had been an early Trump critic, blasting him in the 2016 primary. But by 2020 he had he’d become a loyal ally, and famously spoke at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally that later devolved into the Capitol riot.
“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass. Now our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes, and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history,” Brooks bellowed at the rally.
Brooks later said he was wearing body armor at the rally. “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander has said that Brooks was one of four congressmen who helped him plan the Jan. 6 rally.
That all actually plays well with the average Alabama Republican voter—Trump is immensely popular with the base, and won the state by a 26-point margin in 2020. But Brooks hasn’t been able to stick with his own message since then—something that can’t be blamed on his old consultants .
At an August rally introducing Trump, he made the very odd choice of asking the Trump rallygoers—his ostensible base—to turn their attention away from the false claims that Trump had the 2020 election stolen from him in order to focus on future races instead.
“There are some people who are despondent about the voter fraud and election theft in 2020. Folks, put that behind you. Put that behind you,” Brooks said at the rally. “Beat them in 2022. Beat them in 2024.”
As the crowd stood up and assailed him with jeers, he backtracked a bit.
“All right, we’ll look back at it, but go forward and take advantage of it,” he said as the boos continued.
Brooks doubled down on that argument earlier this week.
“The day to fix the problem was January 6. Congress, not the courts,” Brooks said. “Congress is the ultimate judge, jury and arbiter of who wins federal elections and for the presidency. January 6 is the date set by law, and the Democrats control the House and the Senate. So, how is Congress going to get the votes in the House and the Senate to change it? We can’t unless we win elections. So, we’ve got to win elections.”
Brooks has never gotten much respect from Alabama’s political establishment, many of whom see him as a mediocre campaigner who doesn’t build strong political relationships. But even some of them thought he was the heavy favorite, until he fumbled away his early advantages.
“This is Mo Brooks’ race to lose—and he’s doing everything he can to do that,” one neutral Alabama GOP strategist told VICE News on Thursday. “He’s being Mo.”
And while Trump’s endorsement is a huge help in Republican primaries, it’s not bulletproof—as Alabama proved in 2017. Trump endorsed appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange in his primary against Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. That helped Strange squeak by Brooks, but he lost in a runoff to Moore. Trump then backed Moore in the general election, sticking by him even amidst multiple allegations of sexual harassment of minors—but it wasn’t enough, as Moore became the first Republican in a generation to lose a Senate general election in Alabama.
Katie Boyd Britt, Shelby’s former chief of staff, is also running for office. She has doubled Brooks’ fundraising even though she announced her campaign much later, and as of mid-October, Britt had raised $3.8 million to Brooks’ $1.8 million. A recent poll showed the two of them in a statistical tie, and former Air Force pilot Mike Durant, of “Black Hawk Down” fame, recently jumped into the race and appears to have momentum.
Brooks announced the shakeup in a conversation with a local reporter Thursday evening after VICE News had reached out to the campaign, having confirmed the departure of his top two former staffers.
“Major, major monetary support likely to flow as a result,” Brooks predicted.