Alabama delivered a tectonic shift in American politics last night in the U.S. Senate race with Democrat Doug Jones winning by a small margin in a solidly Republican state. A Democrat hasn’t won statewide in Alabama in 25 years, and it was a state that gave Donald Trump a nearly 30-point victory in the 2016 presidential election.
So what happened and what does it mean?
The people of Alabama rejected Roy Moore, a terribly flawed candidate who assumed, along with many morally compromised Republicans, that Alabamians would choose party and policy over principle and moral compass. They did not. Alabama chose decency and good old American family values instead of political expediency.
Moore was a horrible candidate from the start, having a history of racism, homophobia, misogyny and extremism that did not represent the best of Alabama. Then came the jaw-dropping credible accusations of child molestation and sexual assault.
While many Republicans, evangelicals and Donald Trump tried to look away, ignore or degrade the women who accused Moore of pursuing and assaulting them when they were teenagers, Alabamians, establishment Republicans, Trump’s own daughter Ivanka and decent Americans everywhere could not abide Moore’s abhorrent behavior.
Doug Jones won 21 percent of independents and got a share of moderate Republicans. Importantly, African-American voters over-performed and came out in droves for the Democratic candidate. Write-ins were also a big part of Jones’s victory.
Enough Republicans were disgusted with their own candidate, including Alabama’s senior U.S. senator, Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Fiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE. Shelby announced on Sunday that he would not be voting for Moore and had written in another Republican name; that gave wide latitude to many Republicans and conservatives in Alabama to write-in another name.
That made a big difference and, among other factors, helped tilt the election to Jones.
Then there was President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE who, at the advice of his former adviser, Stephen Bannon, went all in for Moore, campaigning for him in Pensacola, Fla., recording a get-out-the-vote robocall and tweeting furiously in the last two days of the campaign, trying to get Alabamians to come out and vote for Moore.
It was a political disaster for Trump.
It is the second time that he made a bad bet and lost badly in the political chess game that became the Alabama Senate race.
First, Trump supported Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangePress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Pandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE in the primary against Moore, and Strange lost. Trump was reportedly mad and embarrassed that he had backed the losing candidate.
Imagine how he feels today. Alabama not only rejected Trump’s candidate of choice but it rejected Trump, who lent his name and political capital to a Moore win. For Trump and complicit Republicans, a win in Alabama, which would have allowed them to maintain a wider Senate margin, was more important than decency and moral values.
But Alabama had something else in mind. It voted for the true public servant who focused on the bread-and-butter issues that Alabama families care about. It voted for the former prosecutor who brought to justice members of the Ku Klux Klan accused of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombings and the deaths of four little girls back in the 1960s. It voted for a decent human being.
Even though Moore and the Republicans tried to paint Jones as an out-of-touch, crazy liberal who would not represent Alabama’s conservative values, it did not work.
Jones’s personal history and public service in the state, along with his stellar campaign and strategy of reaching out early and authentically to all of Alabama’s communities, won the voters and won the day.
So what does this mean short-term and long-term?
Short-term, it means Republicans will be navel-gazing for some time and Democrats will be celebrating. It means the balance of power in the Senate will give Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans more political leverage in coming policy debates.
Long-term, it means Democrats will have momentum, energy and enthusiasm going into the 2018 midterm elections. While the Senate map for Democrats remains very challenging to flip in the midterms, it means there is at least a better chance of that happening than there was yesterday.
It means the House of Representatives is more in play today than it was yesterday. It also means Trump’s and Moore’s transgressions against multiple women actually do matter.
We have seen that, in the past couple of days, as Moore’s past caught up with him, Trump’s multiple accusers have become more vocal and more visible.
They, along with the rest of the people breaking their silence, will have a pivotal role in the midterms as Democrats have drawn a stark contrast between what their priorities are and where Republicans stand and who they choose to believe.
Donald Trump may have gotten away with his transgressions against women in the 2016 elections, but Roy Moore did not. The political tectonic plates will continue to shift until Trump and Republicans, who have been complicit in supporting him at all costs, meet with the political reckoning that is coming.