Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s loss Tuesday shows that candidates’ choices and positions matter. Even in “safe” seats, you can’t choose credibly accused child molesters to represent the favored party and expect to win.
This was a near-impossible victory for a Democrat to pull off—Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points, Jeff Sessions ran unopposed three years ago, and the closest previous Senate race in the past 20 years had a 19 point GOP victory.
As Republicans reel in horror from this disastrous defeat in a deeply red state, some commentators have been quick to hail this a repudiation of President Donald Trump. The numbers don’t bear that out, however.
Democrat Doug Jones won by 21,000 votes, the tally at midnight showed, which is less than the number of Alabamans who wrote in a nominee (23,000.) While Democrat districts over-performed in this race, Republicans stayed home. The New York Times found that the two whitest, most heavily GOP counties had turnout that was 75 percent below their estimates. Moore received near half of the Trump vote, while Jones managed to receive almost as many votes as Hillary Clinton. Moore lost because so many Republicans who voted for Trump either stayed home or wrote in their own candidate.
Donald Trump had originally endorsed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange—a fact he was quick to point out in the aftermath of Tuesday’s defeat—and he was slow to endorse Moore. Trump tweeted Wednesday that he endorsed Strange because Moore “couldn’t win the general election. I was right!” Clearly, Trump doesn’t want to be tarnished by Moore’s loss.
Is Moore’s defeat a referendum on Trump’s presidency, though?
The short answer is no. First of all, Alabama only faced a special election due to a colossal level of missteps by GOP leaders. After Trump chose Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to head up the Department of Justice, the governor of Alabama could have chosen his successor to fill out the remainder of his term. But, that’s not what happened. Instead, they went with a special election with a moved up timeline.
Secondly, Moore was a highly problematic candidate. Even before the Washington Post ran a story in which he was accused of attempting to date teenagers, Moore was famous for defying the law. He was suspended twice as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court because he refused to enforce laws he claimed violated his religious beliefs. He has said that homosexual conduct should be illegal and he recommended that Alabama judges defy the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage—positions that are far outside the opinions of mainstream America. He has said that Sharia law exists in America and any judge that refuses to recognize God as the source of American law should be removed.
Moore’s Senate campaign argued that “removing the sovereignty of a Christian God from the functions of government is an act of apostasy, an affront to the biblical savior as well as the Constitution. He… [has] a legal theory of God’s supremacy,” the Washington Post reported.
He had taken these extremely-outside-mainstream positions long before the scandals broke. So why did anyone think nominating this guy was a good idea?
More than anything, this defeat points to the waning influence of Breitbart and its leader, Steve Bannon. Far from his current status as a “kingmaker,” Bannon’s endorsements may begin to have even less weight than the endorsement of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Bannon has an axe to grind with the Republican establishment—the electability of candidates he backs be damned.
Unlike recent victories in Virginia and New Jersey, Alabama’s results do not point to a Democratic groundswell. What Moore’s loss shows is that candidates, their positions, and their life choices, matter, even in a “safe” seat. And that is a very good sign indeed.