What the defeat of Roy Moore does not prove
Democrats and the media are busy today furiously spinning the results of the Alabama Senate race, where Republican Roy Moore was beaten by Democrat Doug Jones by about 20,000 votes.
It's a catastrophe for Republicans. It's a mortal blow to Donald Trump. It validates the Democratic strategy to nationalize a local election. Doug Jones is the second coming of Bill Clinton.
Well, maybe not. But what fun would it be to present the illusion that Democrats don't have to do very much to win in 2018 – just sit back and let the press destroy Trump and the Republicans?
Doug Jones didn't just defeat Roy Moore in Alabama's Senate race on Tuesday night — he administered the most crushing and embarrassing political blow of President Donald Trump's young presidency.
Jones' win meant that Trump, who had endorsed Luther Strange in the Republican primary before backing Moore in the general election, threw his weight behind the losing candidate not once, but twice, in the Alabama race.
It was an extraordinary outcome in a state that Trump carried by 28 points in last year's presidential election. Jones' victory, the first by a Democrat in Alabama in 25 years, exposed the limits of the president's power in a party that is now frequently referred to as "the party of Trump." Indeed, though rank-and-file Republicans have resisted, fought, and feared Trump's influence over GOP voters, Tuesday's election results suggested that, whatever the president's power, he is incapable of boosting other anti-establishment candidates to office.
In addition to supporting both losing candidates in the Alabama race, Trump also endorsed Ed Gillespie, who lost the Virginia governor's race last month.
Jones' win, said one senior administration official, "is a big black eye for the president."
Now back to reality.
The off-year elections last month favored the Democrats. They won the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia – one of the bluest states in the union and a purple state where Republicans put up a less than stellar candidate, respectively. They won a state Senate seat in another deep blue state, Washington. They took the Virginia House after 17 years of Republican control.
When examined critically, the election results last month were not that surprising and were blown way out of proportion. Something similar is at work here.
Roy Moore was a toxic candidate even before revelations about his sexual perversions became an issue. Without those accusations, Moore would almost certainly have won, given Trump's huge 28-point margin of victory in the 2016 election. So was the election a rejection of Trump or of Moore?
Trump's approval numbers have tanked, but just about any other Republican running instead of Moore would have walked away with the election. As leader of the Republican party, Trump could have refused to endorse Moore – not that it would have made a difference. Democrats would have excoriated the president for hiding from his duty as party leader to back a candidate. In the end, Trump had no option but to endorse Moore.
The same goes for his endorsement of Luther Strange – a man who voted with Trump 100% of the time. The party leader backs loyalists – a no-brainer. That Republicans in Alabama decided to choose Moore as their candidate says more about the party than it does Trump.
Trump couldn't save Moore from his own follies. And this is a "mortal blow" to Trump? Hardly. It is a setback, perhaps, but given that the chances of Alabama going blue in 2020 are as good as Hillary Clinton becoming a bikini model, the result in Alabama is hardly earth-shattering.
But what about the Republican Party? Isn't this a sign of GOP weakness and vulnerability?
If all GOP candidates have a teenage girl or boy in their past, it will be a Democratic wave election in 2018. But Republican fortunes will rise or fall as a result of their performance in office, not the sexual proclivities of a pervert former judge. In truth, the inaction and chaos in Republican Washington will do far more damage to the GOP's chances to hang on to power than anything Roy Moore has been accused of doing or anything Donald Trump says or does.
The 2010 GOP wave election was nationalized because the Republicans were successful in making a national issue – Obamacare – the primary focus of the campaign. In 2018, Democrats think they have a winning strategy by making Trump the focus. But if the Alabama Senate election proved anything, it's that while the Democratic base of minorities, women, and young people may have given Jones their support, they did not turn out in the massive numbers Democrats need to flip the House. That fact will become apparent over the next few days.
The reasons for Roy Moore's loss are far more the result of disgusted Republicans staying home than Democrats voting in huge numbers. The Dems may still be successful in 2018, but if the Alabama Senate race is a cautionary tale for Republicans in any way, it should spur them to greater efforts to get their people to the polls on election day in 2018.