Wednesday morning, following the upset victory of Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate, political pundits and Twitter election “experts” are professing to know everything about why Republican candidate Roy Moore lost. The election takes are hotter than the sun, and everyone has begun prognosticating what the election results mean for President Trump, Congress, and the country at large as we head into the 2018 midterm elections.
Some takes are insightful. Some inciting. And some are dead wrong. Don’t look for any single person to have a comprehensive understanding of what happened Tuesday night. But guard yourself against some preconceptions that were proven misguided and some election reactions and predictions that are missing the point.
Above all, don’t believe these:
1) A Democrat can’t win in Alabama
This is my mea culpa. Going into last night’s special election, I was supremely confident that the Republican candidate would win in deep red Alabama. I was wrong.
Democrat Jones defeated Roy Moore by more than 20,000 votes in an election that was close but not close enough to trigger a recount. Jones’ victory should remind us all that electoral politics in America is not static. Voters are autonomous, they are not to be taken for granted, and they will respond to the circumstances of the race. Every political campaign needs to earn voter support, and that begins with nominating candidates worthy of that support.
I was guilty of naïve thinking to assume that Roy Moore would win despite the allegations of gross sexual misconduct against him, just because he is a Republican in Alabama. It is likewise naïve to assume that Democrats cannot win elsewhere in red states or that there will never be another Republican politician elected statewide in places like California, for example.
2) McConnell deserves no blame for what happened in Alabama
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is hated in the state of Alabama. His interference in the Republican primary was seen as intrusive and contributed to support for Moore as an alternative to the McConnell-backed Luther Strange. The National Republican Senate Committee’s decision to pull its funding from Roy Moore after the unproven sexual misconduct allegations were made against him doubtlessly aided Doug Jones by depriving Moore of the resources to launch campaign ads. Conservatives will point to Mitch McConnell’s failure to go all in for Moore to explain why a Democrat was just elected in deep-red Alabama.
Yet apologists for Mitch McConnell insist that he had no other choice. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg pointed out that the NRSC always backs GOP incumbents, “period.” Absolving McConnell of responsibility in the Alabama election ignores how the NRSC’s decision to wage a scorched-earth smear campaign against Rep. Brooks while leaving Moore alone until the runoff opened a window for Moore to beat Luther Strange without intense scrutiny. Rep. Mo Brooks is a fine conservative. He would have made an excellent senator. But Brooks was defined as an anti-Trump candidate by McConnell-backed attack ads, and his lack of name recognition hurt him when pitted against Washington D.C.’s money.
Excusing McConnell also ignores how he has repeatedly opposed qualified conservative candidates like Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz in Republican primaries in favor of liberal Republicans. To say that McConnell deserves no blame for what happened in Alabama is tone-deaf and will contribute to a status quo that most conservatives recognize is not working.
3) McConnell deserves all the blame for what happened in Alabama
Likewise, assigning sole blame for Roy Moore’s loss to Mitch McConnell is mistaken. Good candidates like Ted Cruz and others mentioned were able to overcome McConnell’s opposition and go on to defeat their Democratic opponents. Bad candidates like Christine O’Donnell or Todd Akin lost their races.
You cannot excuse the candidate when he loses an election. Roy Moore lost. That means he was a bad candidate and he ran a bad campaign. Whether or not the accusations made against Moore are true is irrelevant to his ability to defend himself from them and present the case for electing him to the U.S. Senate.
Moore’s inability to articulate a credible and believable defense when faced with accusations of sexual misconduct show how he could not make the case for his candidacy. That’s on him. Moore’s disappearance from the campaign trail in the final days of the election might have convinced 20,000 Alabamians that he had something to hide if he couldn’t face voters. That mistake is on him, not McConnell.
4) Issues trump character
Roy Moore’s defeat shows that character still matters in politics. If voters don’t trust a candidate, if they think a candidate is immoral, they won’t support him, no matter what his positions on the issues.
Despite his egregious, extreme position on abortion and other progressive issues, Doug Jones was able to beat Moore because he did not have any glaring character flaws. Roy Moore lost because enough Republicans believed he might be a sexual predator, and they stayed home while Democrats were mobilized to score a win against Republicans and stick it to President Trump.
How, then, did a flawed individual like Donald Trump manage to beat Hillary Clinton, if character matters? Simple, really. Hillary Clinton was a terrible, morally depraved candidate who was even more flawed than Trump. Be careful of assuming the 2020 election will be a piece of cake for the president.
5) Everything Trump touches dies
The “Roy Moore lost because of Donald Trump” take is moronic. This election was not a referendum on Donald Trump, who was not only not on the ballot but also endorsed Luther Strange in the primary.
As Steve Deace previously said, “Trump’s base is driving Trump — it’s not Trump driving his base.” Trump’s campaigning in the primary was ineffective, and there is no reason to suggest he had an impact on the general election either way.
Another crucial point: Those who want to blame Trump for Moore’s loss are the same people who have been relentlessly condemning Moore as a child molester and completely unfit for office. The “hot takes” really can’t have it both ways. If Moore’s alleged moral unfitness swayed voters who otherwise would have been all in for Moore, is it likely that Trump’s endorsement made that worse among those voters?
6) Trump could have pushed Roy Moore out of the race
Rich Lowry suggested this. Consider that being removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice did not stop Roy Moore from running for U.S. Senate. Donald Trump’s endorsement of Luther Strange did not stop Moore from running for Senate. The bombshell Washington Post story alleging that Moore molested a 14-year-old girl did not drive Moore from the race for Senate. The calls from most Senate Republicans for Moore to step aside did not stop him from running for Senate.
Roy Moore was not going to stop running for U.S. Senate unless God Himself told him to, or he lost.
In the end, he lost. Alabama voters weighed the evidence against Moore and voted according to their consciences. That is all anyone could expect them to do. When Doug Jones is up for reelection in 2020, it will be the responsibility of Alabama conservatives to nominate an articulate, principled candidate with integrity to defeat him and reclaim the seat.
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Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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