The Corner

Politics & Policy

Roy Moore’s Passionate Incoherence

Roy Moore will likely be the next senator from Alabama. I for one can contain my excitement. Oh, I’m sure he’ll be a reliable conservative vote on many conservative issues. But Luther Strange was that too. And I have to assume he’ll support President Trump’s agenda reasonably consistently. But, again, Luther Strange did that too. Indeed, President Trump endorsed Strange, presumably for that reason (even though he is now deleting those tweets).

But I also think it’s a lead-pipe cinch that Moore will say and do things in the Senate that might play well with “the base” but will damage the GOP’s brand in other states and races. He will also almost surely say or do things that will encourage Republican senators in more moderate states to disassociate from Moore even when the actual policy position is right. Republican senators who need votes from independents and moderate Republican voters will not enjoy being linked to Moore in ads from Planned Parenthood and being asked by hostile reporters whether they agree with their Republican colleague’s views. In this and in myriad other ways, Moore will make it harder for Senate leadership to get things done — whether that leader is McConnell or someone else. I honestly believe that’s Steve Bannon’s plan (or at least his highly acceptable plan B). Anger-inciting dysfunction and chaos is good for Bannon’s agenda. It’s not good for anyone else’s.

For instance, the White House will also not enjoy being asked again and again whether the president agrees with Moore’s statement about Muslim gays or gay Muslims or whatever. Nor will they enjoy it when he out-Trumps Trump on Trumpian issues.

Which brings me to those celebrating Moore’s victory today. The first defense of choosing Moore over Strange I hear a lot of is anti-McConnell blather — i.e., to pound the table about a non sequitur. It’s fine to be fiercely critical of McConnell, though I’m not. But electing Moore will not make McConnell more effective. It will make his life more difficult. And if that’s your “policy” goal, congrats! But I don’t see why I should waste my time debating such a silly goal.

The second defense is that this race wasn’t about Trump but Trumpism. As Bill Bennett said last night, the more Trumpian candidate won, which is the more important story than the fact that Alabama voters rebuked the president’s preferred candidate after months of Trumpians insisting that the only litmus test that really matters anymore is supporting the president.

Still, I think Bill is right; Moore is the more Trumpian candidate, but that’s not a compliment to Moore. Moore’s M.O. is to say crazy, ill-informed, and occasionally bigoted stuff and play on populist passions. But when it comes to substance . . . meh.

For instance, at nearly the height of the debate over DACA, which tested core Trump supporters more than any other moment of his presidency and basically defines True Trumpism®, Roy Moore — a judge! — was asked where he stood on the issue of DACA and the “Dreamers.” And . . . he didn’t know what the reporter was talking about.

Asked by WVNN’s radio host Dale Jackson about Trump’s push to end DACA protection for so-called Dreamers, a confused Moore responded “Pardon? The Dreamer program?”

Jackson: Yes, sir, the DACA/DAPA. You’re not aware of what Dreamers are?

Moore: No.

Jackson: This is a big issue in the immigration debate . . . 

Moore: Why don’t you tell me what it is Dale and quit beating around and tell me what it is.

Jackson: I’m in the process of doing that Judge Moore.

That’s what made Moore more Trumpy than Strange. Heck, it makes Moore more Trumpy than Trump. The president knows what DACA is (he simply agrees with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that it should be made legal with few or no strings attached).

It also highlights why the defining intellectual trait of Trumpism these days is passionate incoherence.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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