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Alabama is wake-up call for Trump and Bannon to look past the base

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms Dems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Speier on Trump's desire for military parade: 'We have a Napoleon in the making' MORE and Stephen Bannon forgot that there’s a difference between “southern” and “neo-confederate.” On Tuesday, they paid for it. Their man, Roy Moore, an accused pedophile with an unrepentant disdain for modernity and a soft spot for slavery, lost to Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor and Democrat.

With their unalloyed messages of resentment and rage, Trump and Bannon have inadvertently breathed new life into the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant,” an electoral alliance of college educated whites, minority voters and younger Americans. In Alabama’s special election, the South rose, just not in the way the president and his former chief political strategist had predicted.

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As was the case in the Virginia governor’s race, upscale white voters broke with the Republican Party, African-American turnout increased, and rural white voters stayed home. For the record, Alabamians under 45 went for Jones by better than three-to-two, while he captured the votes of college graduates by more than 10 points, and minority voters by a 77 percent margin. Back in the day, Jones, then a U.S. attorney, had sent two Klansmen to prison for life for bombing a church and killing four girls.

With the 2018 election cycle now upon us, these trends have national Republicans on edge. Just minutes after Jones’s victory, Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans interested in Romney leading NRSC: report Overnight Finance: Mnuchin promises new Russia sanctions after uproar | Dow drops ahead of Trump State of the Union | GOP senators call on Trump to protect NAFTA | Regulators subpoena major bitcoin exchange Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Colo.), chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, expressed his wish that Jones vote with Senate Republicans. Yet, while Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) and his aides strive to internalize this emerging reality, it is uncertain whether Trump is constitutionally capable of doing so, and even less likely that Bannon cares to. Slash and burn politics brought both men to where they are, and as Jared Kushner said of his father-in-law, 71-year-old men are unlikely to change any time soon. For once, Kushner looks like he’s right.

After Trump slut-shamed Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBritish health secretary fires back at Trump over universal health care claims Trump on Dems’ ‘universal' health-care push: ‘No thanks’ Gillibrand calls for DOJ to investigate US Olympic Committee over abuse scandal MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday for having the temerity to call for his resignation over allegations of sexual harassment, the president was busy disassociating himself Wednesday morning from the stench of Moore’s humiliating defeat in a haze of deflection. To be precise, at 6:22 a.m. Eastern time, our commander in chief tweeted, “The reason I originally endorsed Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Trump Presidency: Year One Dems search for winning playbook Stephen Bannon steps down from Breitbart MORE (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Numbers went up mightily? Decked stacked him? Trump may as well have said that he was for the Iraq War before he was against it. Apparently, Trump forgot, no one forced him to back Moore. In the run up to Tuesday, Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCornyn: We'll need at least one more stopgap funding bill Moore supporters fire back at Richard Shelby Disaster aid becomes hostage to funding fight MORE, Alabama’s senior senator, announced that he would not vote for Moore, while Trump’s attorney general and former Alabama senator Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law New immigration policy leaves asylum seekers in the lurch MORE refused to say for whom he cast his ballot. The fact is that in a single cycle in a single state, Trump backed two losing candidates.

As for Bannon, don’t bet on the ex-Navy officer cutting, running or retreating. Within the past three months, Bannon helped guide Moore to winning the Republican runoff and declared war on the Republican Senate. Fueled with the Mercer family checkbook and Trump’s approval, Bannon let the Republican establishment know that it was in his crosshairs, as he stated, “Nobody can run and hide on this one, these folks are coming for you.”

To be sure, Bannon has already notched his share of scalps. Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Huckabee Sanders: Dems need to decide if they 'hate' Trump 'more than they love this country' Trump spokeswoman fires back at Flake: 'His numbers are in the tank' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 K.T. McFarland officially withdrawn as nominee for ambassador K.T. McFarland withdraws as nominee for ambassador MORE (R-Tenn.) have since announced they will not seek reelection. But Bannon is also the guy who trashed the University of Alabama on the eve of the special election, letting the world know that he made it to Harvard and Georgetown. #rolltide? Not so much.

If Trump is the face of the Republican Party then Bannon is its soul, and therein lies the GOP’s dilemma. In these polarized times, the Republican base grows ever angrier, making the GOP primary playbook ever more likely morph into a roadmap for driving over a cliff come November. Whether the Republicans can do anything about that remains to be seen.

Jones’s win is a reminder that running statewide is not the same thing as running for Congress with more money and a louder megaphone. Rather, it is about speaking to a larger population with varied concerns. Nuance still matters, and being normal counts. During the Obama years, the Democrats forgot these rules and saw their party get hollowed out, losing control of both houses of Congress, as well as governorships and state legislatures aplenty. Hopefully, the Republicans will get a grip soon enough. Just don’t bet on it.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.