Roy Moore did the nearly impossible and lost an Alabama Senate seat for the Republican party.
Only a historically flawed candidate could have managed it, and Roy Moore fit the bill. Twice bounced from the Alabama supreme court, prone to kooky and noxious views, ignorant of the law and public policy, Moore was already a shaky electoral bet even before allegations from multiple women emerged that he had dated or forced his attentions on them when he was a grown man and they were teenagers. Moore’s denials were tinny, contradictory, and unconvincing.
A swath of the GOP tried to do the prudent and decent thing and force Moore from the race in favor of a write-in candidate. But Moore, who has made a career of poor judgment, insisted that he wouldn’t leave. Probably only President Trump had the sway to get him out of the race. After a brief period of sitting on the fence, Trump decided to back Moore, under the influence of his cut-rate Svengali Steve Bannon, who never met a disreputable political candidate he didn’t like.
Trump and Bannon thought they were cleverly getting in front of the parade of an inevitable Moore victory, in ruby-red Alabama. Instead, they associated themselves with a man credibly accused of preying on young girls and got rebuked by Alabama voters whose standards weren’t as low as theirs.
There are several obvious lessons from Alabama: Character still matters; if he gets his way in other primary battles, Steve Bannon could help throw away other winnable Senate races (and depose Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader not by electing Republicans hostile to him, but by destroying the GOP Senate majority altogether); Democratic constituents are, as we also saw in Virginia, highly mobilized, and Republicans will need impressive candidates and campaigns to try to survive next year’s mid-terms; Donald Trump would be well-served to listen to political advisors who aren’t, like Bannon, hoping to tear down the GOP for fun and profit.
If the GOP takes the right lessons from the debacle in Alabama, it will have served some purpose. Otherwise, the party will have suffered a stinging self-inflicted defeat, with others sure to follow.