Former Alabama judge Roy Moore has won the state’s Republican Senate runoff, a victory that sends an ominous message to establishment Republicans and hands President Trump his first electoral loss since taking office.
The former state Supreme Court justice’s reputation as a conservative firebrand won him the enthusiasm of the party grassroots, even as Strange and his allies outspent him by a staggering margin. Moore stormed ahead to what appears to be a convincing win thanks to that support—he was ahead by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent when the Associated Press called the result at about 9:30 p.m. ET.
Now that the GOP’s insurgent wing has taken its first Republican incumbent scalp, establishment Republicans now have to reckon with what that means for the party’s future.
Moore ran as an unabashed opponent of the Washington establishment and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouse passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome Pelosi vows to avert government shutdown McConnell calls Trump a 'fading brand' in Woodward-Costa book MORE (R-Ky.), whose allies poured more than $10 million into the race on Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Trump faces test of power with early endorsements MORE’s behalf. That message drew support from many high profile anti-establishment forces, including former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and a handful of House Freedom Caucus members.
But as he took the stage at his victory rally in Montgomery, Moore argued that he’s always been supportive of Trump’s agenda.
“We can make America great, we can support the president. Don’t let anyone in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him and support his agenda,” he said.
“As long as its constitutional, as long as it advances our society, our culture, our country, I will be supportive."
Trump’s decision to endorse Strange aligned him with unusual allies, siding with McConnell and the GOP establishment over the insurgent forces that helped drive his presidential campaign. Now, after taking McConnell's advice, he sits on the losing side of a race for the first time since his election
Strange had hoped that support from the White House would help to push him over the edge. But even as the president doubled down on his endorsement by appearing at a rally last week backing Strange, he appeared uncomfortable being pulled in that direction. He mused on stage about whether he made a “mistake” by backing Strange and committed to campaign “like hell” for Moore if he won.
That hesitation and lack of urgency may have muted Trump’s endorsement, as polls in the final days showed that Trump’s decision had little impact. But Strange made sure to thank the president and vice president for their support during his election night speech in his hometown of Homewood.
“The president took a chance, he didn’t have to come down,” he said.
“I’m sure he’ll be criticized for coming to campaign for me. But that’s what loyal friends do.”
Soon after Moore’s victory, Trump tweeted support for his general election bid. The GOP establishment also joined the president for the kumbaya moment, even after a raucous primary that saw critics arguing that Moore’s record and penchant for controversial statements would be a bad fit for the Senate.
McConnell, the SLF and the National Republican Senatorial Committee agreed to back Moore in statements Tuesday night.
"Senate Republicans will be as committed to keeping Alabama’s Senate seat in Republican hands with Roy Moore as we were with Luther Strange,” McConnell said.
“I urge all of our friends who were active in the primary to redouble their efforts in the general election.”
But while Trump’s support didn’t ultimately turn the tide for Strange, he also struggled to overcome the circumstances of his appointment to the seat, which cast a dark shadow over his Senate bid.
Strange was appointed to the seat in February by then-Gov. Robert Bentley when longtime Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE (R-Ala.) vacated the seat to become Trump’s attorney general. But Strange hadn’t been able to escape the stink of Bentley’s scandal—he later resigned and pleaded guilty to charges related to an alleged affair—because he had been tasked with investigating the governor as state attorney general.
Moore is now the heavy favorite to win the December general election against Democratic former prosecutor Doug Jones. But as Democrats are ready to seize on Moore’s controversial résumé in order to mount some semblance of a challenge, Republicans in Washington are worried about the implications of that very same résumé on his likely tenure in Washington.
He’s been thrown off the bench twice for disregarding a court order — first in refusing to remove a Ten Commandments statue he commissioned for state grounds and later for ignoring the federal Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. And during the campaign, he’s called for McConnell to be removed from his position as leader and criticized the recent ObamaCare repeal plan, making clear he’ll be anything but the safe "yes" vote for the GOP agenda that Strange has been.
“Getting thrown off the Supreme Court of your state twice, I don’t think, is a credential that commends you for a membership in the United States Senate,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE (R-Texas) said last week.
But the victory reverberates far outside the halls of the Senate, as the party’s insurgent wing believes Moore’s victory will be a catalyst for an explosion of primary challenges across the country.
While Bannon played a key role mostly behind the scenes, he unleashed the power of Breitbart News on the race in the final weeks, turning the conservative news website into a de facto arm of the Moore effort. And he spoke Monday night at a pro-Moore rally where he eviscerated Strange and the GOP establishment and warned that a Moore victory would only be the beginning.
Bannon recalled that rally as he introduced Moore on Tuesday night, arguing that his victory, in concert with the news that Tennessee Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R) won’t seek reelection is proof of a rising tide for the GOP insurgency.
"Last night we talked about starting a revolution with Judge Moore's victory. Well, Sen. Corker stepped down today, he's not going to run for reelection," Bannon said.
"You are going to see in state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore, that do not have to raise money form the elites, the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington DC, New York City and Silicon Valley."
Alongside Bannon, the pro-Trump Great America Alliance and key members and aides in the House Freedom Caucus came to Alabama looking to ensure a Moore victory.
In their minds, Alabama was the test case — and they succeeded.
Strange is now a lame-duck senator who will step down once the victor of December’s special general election is crowned.
--Jordain Carney contributed reporting.