Republicans in Alabama voted their consciences yesterday, and the result is that, for the first time in 25 years, Alabama has a Democrat in a Republican Senate seat that should have been the safest safe space this side of UC-Berkeley.
Despite the crowing from the media and the national party, this doesn’t represent any great realignment or rising wave of support for liberal policies in Alabama. If Luther Strange or Mo Brooks had been the candidate, this would’ve been a rubber-stamp footnote of a story. Instead, it represented a “bridge too far” uneasiness with a particular candidate that caused many Republicans to stay home and just enough (nearly 23,000, or 1.7% of the vote) to write in a different candidate, and hand a squeaker victory to Doug Jones over Roy Moore by 49.9% to 48.4%. Even with an Obama-level turnout of black voters for Jones in urban areas, he was unable to top 50% and would have lost handily if so many Republicans hadn’t rejected their own candidate and stayed home.
(Note: at this writing, Moore is refusing to concede, citing uncounted military ballots that could bring the total to within the 0.5% margin for a mandatory recount.)
One lesson that I seriously doubt the media will absorb is that it shatters the ridiculous narrative currently being peddled by the Democrats that they are suddenly the “moral high ground” party and it's Republicans who will abandon their moral principles for expediency. If conservative Christians in Alabama really were hypocrites who practiced DC-style situational ethics, they would’ve pulled the lever for Moore without a second thought. As for their support of Trump despite sexual harassment allegations against him, perhaps they forgot voters had two choices; and the Democrats were offering up the Clintons, the poster children for sexual misconduct and smearing the victims. And that was after 25 years of the party telling us that character doesn’t count and sexual behavior is personal and irrelevant for office, specifically to protect the Clintons!
In fact, if the liberal national media had paid attention to the Christian-oriented media, they would have seen many faith leaders joining with Mitt Romney and other Republicans in openly opposing Moore, despite their political beliefs aligning much more with his than with Jones’. That’s precisely because they believe so strongly that character outweighs policy positions. If you want to see what naked hypocrisy and expediency look like, search up a recent article in the Guardian by a feminist who was concerned that the new wave of sexual misconduct allegations was hitting too many liberals, so she was calling for a new set of standards that would destroy only men on the right while letting those on the left off the hook. In other words, a “double standard.” And the same old one that was applied to Bill Clinton by prominent feminists: as long as you back abortion rights and other feminist issues, you can get away with being a sexist pig. Sorry, not interested in going back to that.
Even more Christian conservative voters had an attitude in line with mine: disturbed by the allegations, unhappy with Moore’s response (especially the first Sean Hannity interview), turned off by some of his other gaffes during the campaign -- but unwilling to denounce him as long as he adamantly proclaimed he was not guilty, because it would mean endorsing the end of due process and the presumption of innocence, as well as encouraging more such last-minute, unproven personal attacks. Some may have felt that not supporting Moore wouldn’t have been too calamitous because Jones was promising to cross party lines and represent Alabama, not Chuck Schumer. Besides, if he doesn’t, this was just a race to fill Jeff Sessions’ unexpired term, so they can vote him out in 2020.
But brace yourself: having seen that the Washington Post tactic works, and that GOP voters do have moral standards that they can exploit, the left will use it against virtually every Republican running in 2018. Primary voters need to pick wisely, and anyone with skeletons in their closets had better air them out now or drop out if they don’t want them splashed across the national media. I’ve long said that if you get into politics, you’d better be prepared to undergo a public colonoscopy. Well, prepare for your test results to be broadcast ‘round the clock.
Also despite the crowing from the left, this is not necessarily a signal that retaking the Senate is within reach in 2018. The Democrats have far more states up for reelection than the Republicans, and they have to win every last state and pick up two more red states. But the Republicans are on notice that they need to pick great candidates, to campaign hard for them, and to mobilize their vote. The left is charged up by a 24/7 diet of anti-Trump vitriol, and if you don’t want the agenda that’s defeating ISIS, turbo-charging the economy and putting real judges back on the bench to be blocked in Congress, you’ve got to get up off the couch and vote.
Everyone else is doing winner/loser lists, so here’s mine, aside from Jones and Moore.
The obvious loser that everyone is citing is Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser who spearheaded the idea of primary challenges to moderate Republicans. The new Senate GOP majority is only 51-49 (it was already in effect a minority because of the Republicans who play Hamlet – “To support or not to support?...” over every conservative bill, and then don’t support.) This will make it even harder to get a conservative agenda passed or to approve constructionist judges. Republican voters can’t do what the Senate Hamlets do and let the perfect be the enemy of the good by taking their ball and going home if the Republican isn’t perfectly in sync with their views.
For that and his failed last-minute push for Moore, President Trump is also a loser this round. His ugly Election Day Twitter feud with Kirsten Gillibrand also couldn’t have helped. That was an embarrassing unforced error.
Loser but also winner: Mitch McConnell. He has one fewer Republican Senator, but he won't have to deal with continuing controversy over seating Moore. He can also point to the loss as proof that Bannon’s strategy is a fatal mistake, and Bannon’s favorite punching bag is McConnell.
Another loser but also winner: Republicans who lost an election but proved that they do take character seriously and don’t dismiss questions about that just because a candidate is “their guy.”
Loser: Al Franken. Many suspect that he postponed his resignation so if Moore won, he could take it back and stay on. But to quote fellow “SNL” alum David Spade: “Buh-bye!”
Finally, the big loser nobody’s mentioned: just as in 2016, the pollsters. As recently as Monday, one poll showed Moore up 9 points, while another had Jones up 10 points. The final gap was less than 2 points. Maybe it’s time to start consulting Magic 8-Balls instead.
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