Once upon a time, Robert Bentley was Alabama’s Donald Trump
We all love a good underdog story (unless it involves Alabama or Auburn, that is).
The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey upset, Villanova defeating Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA National Championship game, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson for boxing’s World Heavyweight Title – those are some of the memorable upsets in American sports history.
They happen in politics as well. Some would argue President Donald Trump’s 2016 election win would fall under the category of an upset. It was thought, up until as late as 8 p.m. election night in 2016, Hillary Clinton would be the country’s next president.
Then, Trump had unlikely Electoral College victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. He becomes the next president and those in the media world are stunned.
Long before the long-shot candidacy of Trump, there was the long-shot candidacy of Robert Bentley. When Bentley announced he would run for governor in the 2010 campaign, very few took him seriously.
Even from the start, he was running behind in campaign money with the well-funded campaigns of Tim James and Bradley Byrne. He also had the problem of overcoming Roy Moore as a competitor, who had a loyal cult following – a lesson Luther Strange had to learn just last year.
For many, people saw Bentley’s run as a vanity play – perhaps even a “get acquainted” race for a future political bid. They dismissed then-candidate Bentley’s chance, much as they had denied Donald Trump after his famous escalator ride in 2015.
After the acts of a circular firing squad that often take place in these Republican primaries, there were two left in a runoff. Bradley Byrne and Tim James had a knock-down, slug-it-out fight. While they were duking it out, Bentley was slowly rising behind the scenes. At the end of what seemed like a two-year-long primary fight, it was Byrne and the unlikely Robert Bentley.
Byrne was never able to win over supporters of the other candidates entirely. The primary had proved so nasty that many of James’ voters either stayed home or voted for Bentley in protest of Byrne. Throw in some Democratic Party and AEA shenanigans and the unlikely fairy tale of Robert Bentley as governor becomes a reality.
He handily defeats Democrat Ron Sparks to become governor, and so begins the long, sordid saga of Bentley’s governorship.
The parallels between Trump and Bentley didn’t stop at election night. Even though he had served in the State House for almost eight years, he was still thought of as an outsider. And given that he wasn’t the top choice for many of the rank-and-file Republicans that ran Montgomery, he came into the governor’s mansion with a chip on his shoulder.
Much like Trump, Bentley brought in different people than what one might expect from a traditional Republican administration. In some ways, he was resented for that, much like Trump was when he was staffing his West Wing.
Here’s where they part ways: Yes, both Bentley and Trump are alleged to have a “zipper problem,” as many politicians do when they rise to power. Trump handled his much differently.
Trump had been working the refs since the 1980s. He was a fixture in the New York City tabloids for decades. And somehow, it seemed to work for him. He might have been a philandering billionaire playboy, but he was their philandering billionaire playboy. For many years, that shtick worked for Trump.
He became one of the city’s favorite sons — that is until he decided to wade into Republican politics. After some flirtations with the Reform Party and the Democratic Party, Trump discovered his populist stripes, and with a little marketing and packaging, he won a presidential election.
Bentley didn’t have the luxury of a lowered bar. If Donald Trump cheats on his wife – well, we expected it. On the other hand, we didn’t expect it from Bentley, at least not during and shortly after his 2010 run.
Rumors had persisted around Montgomery, but at face value would you have expected that from Bentley? What woman in their right mind would entertain the idea of playing homewrecker with him?
Nonetheless, he didn’t handle it well, and the rest is history.
Here we are in 2018 and Bentley had apparently to embark upon an image rehabilitation campaign. He’s not the first disgraced governor to try this. George Wallace in his later years comes to mind. Don Siegelman is still waging one to this day.
Does this have any chance of success? Probably not.
In some ways, it is sad and pathetic. But, I wish Bentley the best of luck. If anything, it’ll be entertaining and likely drive some of my left-leaning media brethren in this state to apoplectic-like fits.