It will be hard for ardent supporters of the #Resist movement to admit but last night cannot really be presented as a rejection of Trumpism or even Steve Bannon. So utterly toxic was the Moore candidacy that it obscures the result. Certainly, there’s something going on that bodes poorly for the Republicans in next year’s mid-terms and sensible money will certainly be on their losing control of Congress (with possible impeachment of Trump more likely after that). Yet the level of that opposition is hard to measure in terms of Doug Jones’s victory. Last night was a rejection of Roy Moore who the public decided couldn’t be trusted to go represent them in the Senate.
It wasn’t, of course, the first time they’ve rejected Moore for pretty much the reasons that were evident when he refused to concede the result. He still believes the God will deliver him a victory and it’s this ultra-religious conservatism that has repeatedly proved too much, even for Alabama, the reddest of all red states. Donald Trump has also been proved right to have backed Luther Strange.
Where it does mean something is in the Senate where the Republican majority is cut by one. Previously they could afford to have only three senators rebel. Now they can afford only two. Yet even in this, it might not make an immediate difference. Republicans will try to pass their tax bill before Doug Jones even appears before the Senate, given that Republicans in Alabama will ensure that last night’s result won’t be authorized in time for Jones to take his seat.
Beyond that, last night was really about a unique event in American politics; an exciting special election, with results putting Roy Moore in the lead until the very last moment, when the big Democrat-leaning metropolitan areas came in with big votes for Jones. Jones won but let’s not pretend it was anything like a landslide. If Moore can only lose by 1.5%, it’s reasonable to think that any half decent Republican candidate will take it back. This seat will be up for re-election in two years time — special elections are for the remaining term time rather than the usual six-year term — and it’s highly likely that it will flip back to red from blue.
The main takeaway is perhaps that the Alabama anomaly is finally over and the real winners of the evening might well be those Republican leaders who had been worried about the ongoing allegations about Moore’s predilection for young girls spreading to the Senate. In a way, even Donald Trump might be slightly relieved, not least because it proves him right over the much-vaunted political genius of Steve Bannon. Allegations of Trump’s sexual misconduct will always haunt his presidency but, without Moore there to keep the issue in the headlines, even they might fade back into the general news cycle.
Given the strange state of American politics, Jones’s victory was probably (and paradoxically) the best result for the Republicans whilst still being a great night for Democrats and being a result that tells the rest of us very little about the state of US politics. Confused? Then welcome to Alabama.