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

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration 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.

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 GardnerDemocrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die 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 McConnellJuan Williams: Trump’s policies on race are more important than his rhetoric It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Trump makes new overtures to Democrats 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 GillibrandAffordable housing set for spotlight of next presidential campaign Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case 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 StrangeTrump: 'I could pick a woman,' and she could be accused of misconduct Ann Coulter believes Kushner wrote anonymous op-ed bashing Trump Mulvaney: Trump regularly asks why Roy Moore lost 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 ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 SessionsFBI investigated whether McCabe leaked info about Flynn and Trump to media Ex-Senate Intel staffer pleads guilty to lying to feds over contacts with journalists House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein 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 FlakeKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Live coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight MORE (R-Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerDemocrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist Trump to send Pompeo to meet Saudi king Trump defends 0B US arms sale to Saudi Arabia 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.