When pigs fly, hell freezes over, and Democrats win in Alabama…
Democrat Doug Jones won yesterday’s special Senate election in deep-red Alabama by 50-48% over controversial Republican Roy Moore. Jones not only won big among black voters and in the big cities, but also flipped more rural and especially suburban counties. The turnout among young voters – a staunchly anti-Trump segment – was again higher than usual. Make no mistake, Alabama remains a foreign country to Democrats in general (Jones even supports abortion rights!), but Roy Moore was a bridge too far.
This is most of all a stunning rebuke of President Trump and his former advisor Steve Bannon, both of whom went all in as the Republican establishment turned its back on Moore. That has national implications. Trump dismissed the election defeat in Virginia, but the same cannot be done in the deep South.
Exit polls also show another worrying sign for Republicans. While Moore won a majority among men, women turned sharply against Roy Moore. The allegations of sexual misconduct matter, and President Trump yesterday inexplicably again raised the issue of his own conduct by going after Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has taken the lead on cleaning up DC of its sordid behavior on the matter. Gillibrand has disavowed Bill Clinton and pushed hard for the resignations of Senator Franken and Representative Conyers. Her actions were completely validated by yesterday’s result.
McConnell not unhappy
It is still uncertain, when Jones will take his place in the Senate, but the Republican stampede to finish tax reform suddenly gained further urgency. The plan will probably be submitted by the end of this week and voted on next week. With the Republican Senate majority reduced to 51-49, I expect no further legislative accomplishments between tax reform and the midterm elections in November 2018. Jones is not up for reelection until 2021, so this is not only a big win for Democrats in the short run, but also makes the road a little easier to a majority in both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections. On the other hand, Republicans will not have to defend Moore in November – and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell does not have to worry about how to handle Moore in the Senate.
While the result creates problems for McConnell legislatively, it should be a shot in the arm for the establishment wing of the Republican party. McConnell has repeatedly warned that the right-wing fringes of the party cannot win general elections, and Alabama just proved him right. This should deter the President from supporting primary challengers in the Moore/Bannon mold.
However, President Trump is now politically wounded and needs to prove that he understands his core supporters and their needs. That could imply a further clampdown on migration, fight over funding for the border wall and a government shutdown – and a termination of the Nafta-agreement. In the absence of legislative wins, the cultural war and economic nationalism could become the hallmark of 2018.