What happened in Alabama last night bore some resemblance to what most political operatives in both parties, and most political journalists, expected to happen in the 2016 election: The Republican candidate would offend and repulse voters in both parties, leading to high Democratic turnout and leading Republicans to vote for the Democrat, stay home, vote third party, or write someone in.
So why did it happen for Doug Jones but not for Hillary Clinton? The obvious beginning of the answer is: Jones was a better candidate than Clinton. He didn’t, for one thing, have her 25 years of baggage. And the accusations against Moore were of course significantly worse than the accusations against Trump.
There were a few other differences. The stakes for Republicans were lower. Keeping a seat in the Senate wasn’t as good a reason for overlooking the Republican candidate’s flaws as taking the White House. Democrats were less complacent: They thought Moore was going to win, where last year they thought Trump couldn’t. And there was no Electoral College to magnify the Republican candidate’s advantages with some demographic groups and thus turn a popular-vote loss into an election victory.
And so something like the coalition that most Democrats and Republicans expected to defeat Trump in 2016 prevailed in Alabama in 2017.