Tuesday night’s vote in Alabama brought out some of the worst in American politics. The election was like a fight between a pig and a skunk. Even if one side wins, they come out of it a smelly, muddy mess. There were several winners and losers Tuesday night. Here is a look at some of them.
Doug Jones — Jones was a big winner. He was moderate enough that he didn’t scare away too many conservative voters even when President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon brought their full weight into the election. The best thing for Jones is that in his speech, he spent little time attacking opponents — unlike the president and Bannon — and instead focused his attention on the men and women of many cultures who helped make sure the moral arc of the universe bent a little more toward justice Tuesday night. It was statesmanlike and a welcome change from the childish antics that have become commonplace in recent political races. Conservatives loved to talk about abortion and gun control votes as reasons to keep Jones out of Congress. The truth is that no abortion legislation will be affected by Jones’ Senate votes and there isn’t a piece of gun control legislation coming anywhere near the House of Representatives for years. This was the election to tell a horrible person and candidate that just being a Republican and wearing a cowboy hat while brandishing the world’s tiniest pistol on stage isn’t enough to get your vote. Jones benefited from that good timing.
Democrats — This is a partial victory. While the win for Jones is a big deal for the party as they are now only two votes shy of the Republicans in the Senate, I don’t see a great path forward to hold the seat in 2020 when it comes back before voters in a presidential election. The Republican tide will turn on Jones at that point and being a short-term incumbent isn’t likely to be enough momentum to help him hold the seat.
Republicans — It was a loss for the Republican in the immediate sense. And while the stain Moore’s campaign put on the party will remain for a long time, the GOP is lucky that they don’t have to address whether to seat Moore in the Senate or whether to give him leadership roles etc. While many Democrats will use Republican support for Moore to claim the moral high ground in the 2018 elections, at least Moore won’t be a sitting Senator reminding voters of that decision every day. If a loss could ever be a win, this one was for the party in general.
Half of Alabama – Half of the voters in this state showed that they were not willing to overlook multiple charges of sexual assault on children simply to bend to the whims of President Trump, Bannon and the Republican Party. It may be a thin, dotted gray line, but at least there is still a line in politics that you can cross and disqualify yourself as an elected official.
Roy Moore — Moore was unfit for the job when he beat Luther Strange in the Primary. The faux Christian ideologue has been removed from office twice for failing to respect the rule of law. He believes homosexuality should be illegal and even though he and his wife “have a Jewish lawyer,” his record on race relations is weak even by Alabama standards. When the parade of women came forward to reveal his action in his 30’s, that was a bridge too far for just enough voters to send him riding away on his show pony that Moore loves to ride to the polls — even though it doesn’t appear that he rides it any other time.
Even though the vote total was close, it wasn’t in question. Despite this fact, Moore showed more of the content of his character as he refused to concede the election. It’s over. Hopefully Moore’s political career finally is, as well.
Steve Bannon — Bannon was the main figure in this race after the sexual misconduct allegations arose. Moore’s in-person campaigning almost stopped and Bannon stepped in with his Breitbart publication and in person where he picked fights with Democrats, Republicans who had too much character to support Moore and especially those in Congress he wants to oust to get his own brand of Republican in office. Bannon and his style of campaign may fire up those who proudly wear “I’m deplorable” t-shirts, but no Democrats or Independents are crossing the aisle to support a Bannon candidate. That’s a good thing. The Republican Party will never be the Grand Old Party again until this cancer is excised from its body.
President Donald Trump — Somehow Donald Trump found a way to lose three times in one election. Trump tries to push some narrative that when he got behind primary loser Luther Strange, it was because he didn’t believe Moore could win the General Election. That is among the biggest lies and most ridiculous comments this president has made — and that is saying something. Any Republican who didn’t have multiple women come forward to reveal allegations about a man in his 30’s trying to date young girls would have won by 15 to 20 points. After his first loss to Moore and Bannon, Trump went on to lose to the Democrats.
Somehow, just over half of Alabama’s special election voters were able to overcome howling endorsements from Bannon and the president and voted for a Democrat for Senate. Alabama is among the reddest states in the nation. For a president to fail to pull this one out for the party shows what a historically low approval rating is doing to his administration and their attempts to get anything done.
I also credit Trump for losing when it comes to having no backbone in family matters. Not only does he brandish every weapon available in fighting the imaginary War on Christmas while his Jewish daughter and son-in-law work in his administration, Trump failed to stand up to Bannon when he attacks Ivanka directly. Ivanka was among the few members of the administration that came out against Moore and even said, there is a special place in Hell for people who abuse children.
Bannon used that line to mock Ivanka and other Republicans who prefer their elected officials to be people of character. Sarah Huckabee Sanders likes to excuse Trump’s daily rants on Twitter by saying the president will always respond to attacks. But like all bullies, they only lash out at those who they can push around. When someone enters the fray who can hurt them, they cower in the corner hoping to avoid damage. Trump is scared of Bannon. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself what you would say to a man who openly mocked your daughter at a campaign rally. Trump is a playground bully who can’t take a shot without running home crying.
There is a temptation to over-evaluate special elections. They rarely foretell anything. In this case, one of the most maligned candidates in the history of politics was able to stay close to his opponent because the president and one of his former advisors tried to save him. It didn’t work.
The real lesson we learned is that even deep red states will vote against Republican candidates if they are bad enough. It is very unlikely that these circumstances could arise again — unless David Clarke or Joe Arpaio decide to seek office in 2018.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.