It was a narrow win for Doug Jones in Alabama, but it was a win—in a seat where Jeff Sessions had won with 97.5% of the vote in 2014. How could a Republican possibly lose an election in Alabama? It’s as Republican now as it was Democratic a century ago. So the question now is, what happened?
We invite you to tell us what you think, but I’ll kick it off with a few comments of my own.
1) Trump waffled. For as much as Trump likes to portray himself as strong and steadfast, he obviously isn’t. He has been all over the map in his life, being very pro-choice not that many years ago, to realizing the groups who could give him power, and how to pander to them.
But this isn’t about ideas. It’s about power. Early in the Alabama primary, it appeared that Mo Brooks would be the easy winner. He was “Trump’s man.” The only risk was that the incumbent, Luther Strange may win, if the ultra-conservative vote were split between Brooks and Roy Moore. Incongruously, Trump flipped from Brooks to Mitch McConnell’s choice—Luther Strange, who ended up winning. But after the primary, when it was a run-off between Strange and Moore, Trump quietly supported Moore, by giving him access to his email list for contributions. Then, suddenly, just before the run-off vote, Trump took his list back and said he was supporting “Big Luther.”
But wait, there’s more! Before the runoff, Trump flipped yet again, this time musing out-loud—in front of Strange supporters that he probably made a mistake supporting Strange. That’s because in TrumpWorld, ideas and ideals mean nothing. It’s all about winning, regardless of outcome. And that back-handed “support” may have lost the run-off for Strange.
Trump was relatively quiet after that, although once the accusations against Moore mounted, Trump flipped again, saying “if” the accusations were true, Moore should pull out of the race. But the trouble is, by Alabama law, Moore couldn’t “pull out.” His name would appear on the ballot, regardless. After that, increasingly Trump supported Roy Moore, not really because Roy Moore was a good candidate, but rather, because Trump didn’t want to lose a seat to the Democrats. And while Trump’s support helped, it would have been better if he had actually found things to praise about Moore.
And now, here we are, waiting to hear how Trump will spin his multiple failures in this campaign season. Somehow, he will try to claim victory. Or he may once again try to undermine faith in our electoral system.
2) Trump did tweet about the election already. Once again, he’s twisting reality. In his “congratulatory” tweet to Jones, he suggested that write-in votes were to blame for Moore’s loss. But there were 2.5% write-ins in the last run for this seat. This time, just a paltry 1.5%. Sorry, Donald J., that dog don’t hunt.
3) While Trump was full-throated pro-Moore at the end, where was Jeff Sessions? Remember that Sessions had won this same seat with 97.5% of the vote just three years ago. Yet he was AWOL in this year’s campaign. That had to send a message to Republican voters. No one seems to be talking about Sessions. Why not?
4) As has been suggested here and elsewhere before, the problem for Roy Moore was not the decades-old accusations. Most of them were not crimes, and those which were, were long past the statute of limitations. No, Moore’s problem was lying about it all. He did admit to “dating” teens when he was in his 30s. Somehow, he thought it was a good idea to admit that the girls were so young that he felt that he had to ask their mamas’ permission. And we’re supposed to believe that he didn’t touch the young girls he “dated”? Seriously?
5) Probably the greatest mistake that Moore made was a sort of Hillaryism. In the last few weeks, he just disappeared. He didn’t campaign where he was needed. In fact, he just didn’t show up. That’s how Hillary lost Pennsylvania, Michigan, and especially, Wisconsin. At a time when people were waffling about support for Moore, there was a report that he may have took his son to Pennsylvania to see a football game. It wasn’t confirmed, and the voters just didn’t deserve to know. So the voters felt taken for granted, and maybe felt that he was hiding because he couldn’t honestly reply to the former junior-high-school girls who said he took advantage of them.
6) Jones wasn’t a great candidate. When he was chosen, he was considered a sacrificial lamb. Remember that the Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate to run for this seat last time. If they had thought they had a chance, they would have found an anti-abortion candidate, because more than anything else, the fact that Jones wasn’t adamantly anti-abortion worked against him.
7) Establishment Republicans are secretly rejoicing. This was a humiliating defeat for Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Bannon expected Moore to be the first domino in his battle to tear down incumbent Republicans. Oops. Instead, he helped elect a Democrat.
8) Probably the saddest point of this whole episode is that almost every Republican in Alabama, in surveys, said they did not believe the women/girls who reported their experiences with a younger Roy Moore. Once again, truth loses. If Moore had said, shucks yeah, that was before I found Jesus, he would have benefited from the accusations. If he had simply apologized to them, he would have made Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Instead, he forced his supporters to live a lie, and that is just not fair to the people who believed in him.
9) I don’t know much about the new senator-elect, Jones. Nobody does. His claim to history will be that he was just “not Roy Moore.” That’s sad for many reasons. And characteristically, Moore has refused to concede reality.
10) And finally, (I like to round out a full ten), this election cast doubts on Fox News and it’s polling. Yes, they were the only poll to say Jones would win, but the problem was in the way they said it. They claimed he’d win a landslide of ten percent. There’s no way you can justify that. It is three times the error rate expected. The only explanation was that they published that Jones was far ahead just to scare Moore supporters to the polls. That should be investigated.
OK. Those are my observations and musings. What are yours?