Alabama Sends a Message
Alabama voters can be forgiven if they preferred to sit out Tuesday’s special Senate election, but those who turned out narrowly elected Democrat Doug Jones to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The result is a painful lesson for the Alabama Republicans who nominated Roy Moore in the September primary. But it’s also a useful act of political hygiene for the national Republican Party given the accusations of sexual misconduct against the former judge.
The cost of defeat will be high and immediate. Despite his campaign vows to “cross the aisle” to work with Republicans, Mr. Jones will fit right in with Senate Democrats. He will be a reliable vote for Chuck Schumer on any important matter, including judicial nominees. Had he shown even a scintilla of moderation on abortion, for example, he would have won in a rout.
Mr. Moore’s defeat narrows the GOP majority’s margin to 51-49, which will give even more leverage to individual Senators who want to grandstand or satisfy a political constituency. Alabama evangelical Christians who supported Mr. Moore over appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary should know that they have now made a conservative Supreme Court nominee less likely if Justice Anthony Kennedy retires in 2018. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins will hold the balance of judicial confirmation power, and watch the media lobby them in waves.
The good news is that Mr. Moore’s loss may give the GOP a better chance of holding the Senate majority next year. Democrats were primed to make Mr. Moore a national symbol of sexual harassment to drive turnout among women. GOP incumbents would have been asked about Mr. Moore every day.
Mr. Moore’s loss is also a defeat for former White House aide Steve Bannon, who wants to run challengers to every GOP incumbent next year other than Ted Cruz. Mr. Bannon backed Mr. Moore in the primary, though the judge had been removed twice from the state Supreme Court for refusing to follow a legitimate court order. Mr. Moore was a political self-implosion guaranteed to happen.
The voting in Alabama showed that thousands of Republicans, especially women in the suburbs, either stayed home or crossed over to vote for Mr. Jones. They were rejecting an unacceptable candidate in Mr. Moore, not the national GOP agenda.
The Alabama result shows that Mr. Bannon cares less about conservative policy victories than he does personal king-making. He wants to depose Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader even if it costs Republicans Senate control. GOP voters, take note: Mr. Bannon is for losers.
The Moore defeat should also be a lesson to the Republican Party, and President Trump, that many GOP voters are still at heart character voters. They will only accept so much misbehavior in a politician, no matter the policy stakes. Mr. Trump opposed Mr. Moore in the primary but came around to support him even after the accusations emerged about Mr. Moore’s pursuit of teenage girls while he was in his 30s. The GOP voters who ignored Mr. Trump and rejected Mr. Moore also want a President who acts presidential.
As for Alabama Republicans, they’ll get another shot at Mr. Jones in 2020. Maybe they’ll learn from this debacle and nominate a candidate worthy of support.