Republican elite — not Trump's base — lost the Alabama race

Republican elite — not Trump's base — lost the Alabama race
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Here we go again. In the aftermath of Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama on Tuesday night, the same familiar faces on television are coming to the same familiar, yet inaccurate conclusions about the latest Republican debacle. The sun rises in the morning. President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Freedom Caucus calls for Congress to work on shutdown through break Democrat previews Mueller questions for Trump’s AG nominee Trump inaugural committee spent ,000 on makeup for aides: report MORE tweets. And pundits and political strategists get it wrong.

So let’s talk about the real takeaways from the Alabama Senate race.

Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreHillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Jones asks federal officials to investigate misinformation campaign tactics in Alabama Senate race MORE was a supremely flawed candidate, without a doubt. However, simply blaming Alabama voters — and Steve Bannon — for picking a flawed candidate is foolish. The so-called “experts” making this argument, including many Senate Republicans, completely misunderstand what is taking place with the electorate across the country.

The rise of Roy Moore — and Donald Trump before him — was not an accident, but rather a predictable consequence of the GOP’s inability to follow through on campaign promises for decades. Like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football, Republican voters have dutifully shown up year after year at the polls to elect Republican politicians who, invariably, have then turned around and made excuses as to why they can’t repeal ObamaCare, defund Planned Parenthood, build the wall, drain the swamp, etc.

This has had a twofold effect on the conservative base.

One group of conservative voters has become even more engaged and willing to fight the establishment GOP. These are the folks Steve Bannon is accused of activating.

But the other group has become completely deflated and grown disenchanted with politics in general, often to the point of not bothering to vote. And if the results from Alabama are any indication, it’s this group that Republicans should be worried about.

In 2016, Donald Trump received 1,318,255 votes versus Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump boasts about checking gas prices while in motorcade: 'You think Hillary Clinton would've done that?' Harry Reid on Iraq War vote: 'It tainted my heart' New Hampshire is ‘must-win’ state for Warren, says veteran political reporter MORE’s 729,547 votes in Alabama. On Tuesday, Roy Moore received only 650,436 votes versus Doug Jones’s 671,151 votes. Not accounting for crossovers, this means that just roughly 49 percent of Trump voters turned out for Moore while an astounding 92 percent of Clinton voters did so for Jones.

The problem for Republicans is clear: It’s the turnout, stupid. The GOP should be seeking to engage its base, not deflate it. The reaction of Republican elites, however, has been exactly the opposite.

To take just one example, the Senate Leadership Fund — whose job it is to preserve the Republican Senate majority — released a gloating “told you so” statement lamenting “candidate quality” and personally attacking Steve Bannon as the singular reason for losing the seat.

ssThe decision to call out Bannon by name — and not Moore — is especially telling. Bannon has become the ultimate bogeyman to both the Left and to those in the GOP establishment. He speaks for the engaged part of the base, serving as a proxy for them — demanding fulfilled promises and accountability from their elected leaders. He is the GOP’s id.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Senate Republican leadership PAC is gloating over the loss of a Senate seat — and the deliberate deflation of GOP voters — is, to say the least, a serious problem for the GOP’s outlook in 2018 and beyond.

And let’s not forget what else happened in the lead-up to the Alabama vote. One Republican Senator donated money to the Democratic challenger and tweeted out an image of the check. Another went on television in Alabama to promote a write-in campaign — a campaign which may have helped provide the eventual margin of victory. Yet others argued that Moore ought to be hauled before an ethics committee — or expelled immediately — if he were to be elected. The NRSC refused to engage the race at all, and the RNC offered a measly $170,000 — and no staff — to help the struggling Moore campaign.

What does this say to conservative voters? How are they not supposed to take this as a direct attack on them?

Here is the inconvenient truth GOP elites don’t want to hear: If the Republican Party establishment continues to wage war against its own voters, refuses to act substantively on any of their legislative priorities, and continues to actively thwart the popular impulse for reform in Washington, 2018 is going to go badly. Plain and simple.

Believe it or not, the deliberate suppression of one’s own voters — especially when enthusiasm among Democrat voters is at an historically high level — is not a winning strategy.

The answer to the Moore debacle isn’t to vilify Bannon and the voters who picked Moore. The answer, rather, is to take heed of what the Trump victory showed, understand the forces that Bannon is trying to channel, and start getting behind candidates who want to shake up the system.

This is the real lesson from this week’s defeat in Alabama — a lesson that Republicans cannot afford to ignore.

Frank Cannon is the president of American Principles Project, a non-profit dedicated to educating and advocating for public policy solutions that recognize the dignity of the person as the basis of the founding principles of the United States.