The special election in Alabama to fill the vacant Senate seat left by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an amazing top off to an amazing year in politics.
The online and in-print takes have been hot, with the left tying the election to the #MeToo movement, and the right making the case that the only moral vote was for the immoral guy on “my” team.
This take, my hot take, is neither of those.
Instead, I think it proper to take a moment and think about the things we can learn from the results and what exactly we should do with that knowledge. The second half of this article will cover exactly that: what we learned, what we should have learned, and how it applies to the future.
First, though, let’s lay out a few things that we should all acknowledge up front:
This was not, in itself, a long-term victory for Democrats in Alabama. Roy Moore wasn’t a good candidate even before he was known to have dated teenage girls when he was in his 30’s. The chances that Doug Jones faces someone as inept as Roy Moore again in 2020 are below 50%.
But that brings me to the next item people need to understand.
The GOP is not guaranteed to gain this seat back in 2020. They’re not. They have a 50% chance of picking someone just as inept as Roy Moore again. Honestly, people like Roy Moore don’t make it to a Senate race without a systemic failure in our process of vetting candidates for office.
This broken state of affairs has arisen for a multitude of reasons, but to put a bow on it I would just say it is attributable to the not-so-civil war between the Establishment GOP, Steve Bannon, and the traditional conservatives like those who started the NeverTrump movement in the GOP Presidential Primary.
That point could use an entire in-depth article of its own, which this is not, but I do hope you’ll indulge going a bit further on it before we get to the numbers (below).
The system to vet candidates withered under control of the old GOP Establishment; let’s just say that they’d been complacent before the Tea Party revolt and then once they got their machines running again they’d lost the trust.
When the Tea Party offered up Rubio, Lee, and Cruz and the Establishment treated them like Akin, Angle, and O’Donnell, the base rightly reacted with umbrage and distrust. Add in the insurgent environment to candidacy selection and enthusiastic primaries with multiple candidates/challengers, and all of the sudden the resources aren’t there to do a proper vet of every candidate.
We saw this problem play out not only in the Alabama GOP Primary, but also the 2016 GOP Presidential primary, where allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of Donald Trump where largely shrugged off by base voters (including, of course, many from the state of Alabama).
Okay, just one last item before we finally get to the numbers from the election and discuss what to do with them.
The GOP has a strong contingent of traditional conservatives who will not abide the idea that morality no longer matters. Unlike the Democrats, who have welcomed sexually aggressive perverts with open arms, the GOP’s dalliances with moral turpitude and broad acceptance of same by their voter base is a relatively new phenomenon, rooted firmly in the Trump era of Republicanism.
We should not discount this new environment in which the GOP is ok with sexual predators just because it is a new development and sustained a mixed rebuke in the Alabama special election. However, we should also remember that it isn’t necessarily the new norm either. It could just be a moment of weakness in a world that has been beating up Republicans for sport ever since George W. Bush invaded Iraq.
Now that we have that out of the way… what can we learn?
The Washington Post reported that “every single county swung left compared to 2016, with some moving more than 15 points.” Additionally, twelve of the counties lost by Moore were counties that voted Trump in the 2016 General Election. The Post also gave a comparison of how Moore did in relation to his last statewide run, which was for the state Supreme Court. “In 2017 he outperformed his margins in 32 counties, but in 35 others he did worse.”
The interactive map of the county by county votes that the Washington Post provides allows us to get a bit better idea of how these swings happen.
First, when looking at the map you can’t help but notice the write-in vote percentage. Nearly 23,000 voters across the state, from different counties, said no to both evils. How encouraging. I think there are a few things we can infer here that are really important, if you want a new, revitalized, vibrant, and conservative Alabama GOP.
First, I think it is safe to assume that nearly all of the write-in voters were actually Republican voters. There was little to no reason for an Alabama Democrat to not vote for Doug Jones, in fact, I assume that we will find out later that nearly every Alabama Democrat who could vote did in fact vote for Jones.
Second, I think the type of Republican voters who would choose to vote for a write-in candidate rather than a morally flawed Republican or a Democrat would tend to be your more traditional, Burkean, conservatives.
Third, as I went through the different counties that flipped, or didn’t flip but had large drops in the GOP vote share, I noticed that many of the counties had significant write-in voters. In some of these counties these write-in votes made the difference.
From these three points we can say that we have a group of enthusiastic voters who lean more towards the traditional conservative lines who, while powerful, are currently not those in power within the Alabama GOP.
NRSC/Cory Gardner last night dodging Roy Moore bullet like… pic.twitter.com/KCYCQFVBuk
— David Kochel (@ddkochel) December 13, 2017
The NRSC, which took a pass on supporting Roy Moore under the leadership of Senator Cory Gardner, should take a keen interest in this information and do the following:
Do your best to identify these voters, county by county, and start getting them prepared to take a seat on their Local/County/State GOP committee. These are the natural leaders for a resurgent, conservative GOP in Alabama ready to ensure another Roy Moore doesn’t even make it out of the primary.
If the NRSC doesn’t do it, or isn’t trusted by the traditional conservatives who are still out there, then some organization that isn’t beholden to Trump, the Establishment, or Bannon should.
Once they do it in Alabama, they will have a model to do it in other red states that will no doubt be in play in 2020 due to the current dumpster fire that is the GOP. This isn’t an easy task, and luckily I am not the one who would have to pay for it or see it through, but if Republicans ever want to get past what Trumpism, the Establishment, and nonstop civil war, has done to the Grand Old Party they must empower those who hold to principle and act accordingly.
If not, then it’s Roy Moores and Doug Joneses all the way down.