The Corner

Politics & Policy

Roy Moore’s Win Suggests Populist Forces Are Distinct from Trump

Roy Moore’s victory in the Alabama Republican primary is a piece of evidence against the claim that the GOP in 2017 is a Trumpian cult of personality. President Trump invested some political capital in this race on behalf of Luther Strange. The president didn’t go full MAGA; at Friday’s rally, he even wondered whether he had made a mistake in backing Strange. Nevertheless, he clearly expressed his preference to Alabama Republicans — and they chose differently. With a nine-point victory margin, Moore won handily. The populist-conservative grassroots that were so important for Trump’s 2016 victory did not uniformly support his candidate.

Pitting the outsider’s outsider (Moore) against the avatar of the Republican establishment (Strange), the primary often emphasized style and personality over discrete policy positions. Nevertheless, this election result could have implications for policy debates. The fact that the Alabama Republican electorate has chosen to break with the president in this primary could be a sign that the Republican base will not be willing to roll over for the president on any and every issue. For instance, a number of Beltway talking heads have insisted that the president can cavalierly fail to deliver on his campaign promises on immigration and other issues because the GOP base will gladly accept anything that has a Trumpian imprimatur. This argument was already somewhat undermined by the subpar polling support from Republican voters for many of the futile efforts at health-care reform this year. But the defeat of “Big Luther” underlines in bright red ink the fact that grassroots Republicans will not march to every tune the president calls.

Last night’s result, then, suggests that populist forces are distinct from Donald Trump. In 2016, he was able to harness these forces by making certain policy commitments and by affecting a certain style. But it seems as though the president could lose those forces if he surrenders the political commitments he campaigned on. This doesn’t mean that the president can’t work with Democrats on certain issues; indeed, an infrastructure deal with Democrats might gratify, rather than alienate, populist voters. But breaking with certain populist-conservative tenets (especially on immigration) could damage the president’s standing with the voters he will need for reelection in 2020.

Luther Strange’s loss could also have implications for congressional Republicans. Putting a Trumpian face on the same old policies might not be enough for the GOP to rally its voters. If Republicans hope to use Trump’s affect as a substitute for meaningful policy reforms, they might have to look forward to continued political stalemates.

Fred Bauer — Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller. He also blogs at A Certain ...

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Did Flynn Lie?

At the outset, let’s get two things straight: First, there is something deeply disturbing about the Obama administration’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation on retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn while he was working on the Trump campaign — and, ultimately, about the Justice ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Where Is the Flynn 302?

Better late than never (I hope), my weekend column has posted on the website. It deals with the question whether General Michael Flynn actually lied to the FBI agents — including the now infamous Peter Strzok — when they interviewed him in the White House on his third day on the job as national security ... Read More

G-File Mailbag: The Results of a Bad Idea

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you just standing there eating Zarg nuts), I had a bad idea. It wasn’t a terrible idea, like asking a meth addict ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Who’s in Charge Here?

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was asked on many occasions whether he would “accept the results” of the election if he were to lose. Democrats and their media allies demanded that he make a solemn vow to “accept the results.” It was never entirely clear what anybody thought ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Collusion Scenario

It has become an article of faith in some quarters on the right -- well, most -- that the Mueller investigation has found no evidence of collusion with Russia and has accordingly shifted gears to process crimes like lying to the FBI or obstruction of justice. Having decided that this must be true, many have ... Read More