Jones vs. Moore

“There’s a special place in Hell for Republicans who should know better.”

-Steve Bannon

“Republicans did not win elections because they were popular, because they had good ideas, or because they had a mandate. They won because voters hated their opponent more, or did not hate them enough to come out and vote. They fail to consider that if you get voters sufficiently pissed off, that dynamic may reverse. ”


The Alabama special election that ended up pitting Democrat and former prosecutor Doug Jones against Republican Judge Roy Moore (that’s his first name, Judge) for the Alabama US Senate seat picked up a great deal of significance because of the thin Republican margin in the Senate, and over the course of time because of Judge Moore’s prior history of reactionary opinions and the bombshell revelations of his pursuit of teenage girls in his thirties. Jones won the election with 51 percent of the vote, very close but with a wide enough margin to avoid a recount. This doesn’t mean that Roy Moore is conceding the results. In statements after the election, he claimed that big money from the establishment prejudiced the results. If he really wants to get attention, he should blame the result on Russian hackers.

It is testimony to where American politics is at this point that when the racist theocrat with a rumored thing for young girls lost an election, it came as a surprise. It probably shouldn’t have, though. While Doug Jones was canvassing neighborhoods last weekend in the company of (mostly black) celebrities and Democratic Party figures like Cory Booker, Moore was conspicuously absent from Alabama, choosing to watch his son in this year’s Army-Navy game instead. Even before that he was refusing to make appearances in the state, almost as if he were embarrassed about something. Then, the very Monday before the election, Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby – who had been a Democrat before joining the Republican Party during the Clinton Administration – told the press that he could not vote for Roy Moore, and instead cast a write-in vote for a different Republican. As it turned out, about 22,800 write-in votes were cast, exceeding the gap between the votes cast for Moore and Jones.

So, third-party protest votes saved the day. That’s not a phrase you see very often!

The election result is a critical blow to the Republican Party, and in retrospect it is a blow that is completely self-inflicted. Not only that, it is a catastrophe that could have been averted at several points.  It started when Viceroy Donald Trump decided to reward Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for his early support by making him US Attorney General. (A decision he now has other reasons to regret.) Sessions’ seat was safe for Republicans, because the governor of Alabama was a Republican. However Governor Robert Bentley appointed state Attorney General Luther Strange to the post in February, despite or maybe because of the fact that Strange was prosecuting an impeachment case against the governor and had recommended that it be delayed.  At this point, Strange was to serve out the remainder of Sessions’ term which would have ended with the 2018 election cycle. However, Bentley ended up resigning over his various scandals in April and was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey. She then decided to hold a special election for the Senate seat this year. Bentley had ruled against a special election as Governor citing costs, but Ivey made the decision for an immediate election citing state law.  Again, at this point the seat was still assumed to be safe for the Republican Party. But then Roy Moore showed up. Despite Strange being supported by the national Republican establishment (including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), he was challenged by Moore and conservative Mo Brooks in the Republican primary. Strange won the first round of votes but failed to clear the margin for a runoff, which Moore subsequently won in August.

Even then, the expectation was that Moore would win easily. The last time a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama was with Richard Shelby in 1996, who again ended up turning Republican. Initial polls after the primaries had Moore leading. Even after the Washington Post article about Moore’s sexual history came out, Republicans rushed to defend him, including both Trump and former president Steve Bannon, both of whom liked Moore better than Strange to begin with. And Moore and his supporters continued to make statements that rallied the Trump Right and appalled everyone else. It culminated shortly before the election when a group identified as a “pro-Trump super PAC” got a 12-year old girl to interview him for a campaign video.

I enjoy a sick joke as much as anyone else, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

It became clear long before the Moore campaign that the only reason one would have to vote for the current Republican Party is to flip off the liberals. And if that is all they have to offer, tweaking the liberals is a valid tactic only up to the point that it alienates the people who don’t identify with either team but may hold the balance in a close election.

I’ve often thought that the lesson of the 2016 election was that if making liberals cry was the only thing that mattered, then Donald Trump would have won the popular vote. And a lot of the Democrats’ problem is that they haven’t grasped this. But what Republicans refuse to get is that Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote because most voters realized that making liberals cry was not the only thing that mattered.

In his Politico column, conservative Rich Lowry offers a theory:  “We don’t know if Trump will experience a midterm shellacking on par with Obama’s in 2010, or, getting more speculative, go on to win reelection anyway. But every indication is that Obama and Trump are similar in that their signature politics work much better for them than their parties.” He observes that Obama’s charisma failed to attach to Democrats in the midterms (though the unpopular health care bill might have had something to do with that) and “(Obama’s) party felt the full fury of the backlash against his agenda, while he, winning reelection handily on the strength of his core voters, was held harmless.” Similarly with the current Republican ascendance, “all the people stirred up into a lather of anti-Trump loathing might want to do something with all their pent-up energy — like vote. With Trump nowhere near a ballot for the next three years, the only alternative is to take it out on the nearest person with an “R” next to his name.”

What that means is that just because the Republicans got one retarded howler monkey in a suit elected, that doesn’t mean the trick will work twice now that the novelty has worn off. Especially now that people have seen what the monkey will do with an executive order.

Yet, if protest votes (or abstentions) made a difference, the fact remains that for a large part of election night Moore held the lead in the vote tallies, and it was still possible that Moore was going to win the election because enough people saw his vices as virtues. What really tipped the balance, after 10 pm Eastern Time on Tuesday, was when the final reports for Jefferson County (Birmingham area) came in, giving Doug Jones his final lead. Jones won the most urban counties and got 96 percent of the black vote, and 61 percent of votes from voters under age 45. While Roy Moore did not receive the same level of Republican turnout that Donald Trump did in 2016, this election was determined by black voters.

If state laws – and their enforcement by Alabama government – are being skewed in such a way as to making voting at least inconvenient for black neighborhoods, and their votes still made the difference in this race, that indicates just how motivated the black community was.

Even then, it wasn’t necessarily because Doug Jones was offering anything. The Washington Post had an article covering the opinions of black voters in the state, with one woman saying “I obviously know what he did to prosecute white supremacists years ago, but I don’t know what he has done for the black community lately”. Another man went on Twitter saying: “”Today I voted to defeat Roy Moore because he’s horrible, not because I felt encouraged by Doug Jones. I still think Jones’ campaign was a mess that disrespected the Black community. I know other Black Alabamians felt the same too, but we did what was needed.” Certainly the fact that Doug Jones successfully prosecuted the two Alabama church bombers didn’t hurt, but the conviction was in 2000 for a crime that happened in 1963. Jones actually did the work and campaigned hard while Moore assumed he could coast on the votes of his base, but if the lesson for Republicans is that the base would vote for Moore anyway, the lesson for Democrats is that there were still almost enough Moore voters for him to win. In both cases, the potential for error was in taking the voter base for granted, as Democrats have been doing for quite some time. It remains to be seen whether either party will learn that point.

In retrospect, it turns out I was right in another column:

“You might remember that in 2012, after Mitt Romney lost a presidential run to incumbent Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee commissioned a “growth and opportunity project” –  more commonly referred to in the press as their post-election ‘autopsy’ – in which the feedback they got in surveys, focus groups and other methods indicated that the GOP was faulty at ‘messaging’, that young people in particular ‘are rolling their eyes at what the Party represents’ and ‘many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country.’ The proposed solution was for the party to ‘stop talking to itself,’ basically meaning outreach to other people who don’t already agree with the doctrinaire Republican position, as opposed to catering to the stupid bigots fortified by talk radio and alternative media. And the response from the ‘base’ and Republican organizers in the 2014 midterms was ‘we SHOULD TOO cater to the stupid bigots, because they’re the ones who show up and VOTE, and vote for the hardcore conservatives who fight for us.”

“…Now, as with the Romney Autopsy, Democrats ought to do the opposite of what they’re being told. That doesn’t mean (you) should nominate another dull party hack who has no grasp of the victory conditions for a presidential election. It also doesn’t mean you should emulate Republican psychology. You will never top Republicans when it comes to tribal, us-versus-them, persecution-complex, ‘the only way to stop Satan is to self-lobotomize and vote for the lesser asshole’ mentality, and if you try, you will defeat the purpose of claiming to be different from them. But you can learn what they learned from their defeat: First, find the people who will vote for you no matter what, and cater to them. Second, wait for their leader to show up.”

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