How the GOP repeatedly own-goaled their way to defeat in Alabama
On Tuesday night, we saw something we scarcely could have imagined even months ago: a Democratic victory in Alabama’s special election for the Senate. With 98 percent reporting, Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, led Republican Roy Moore 49.5-48.8. Jones’s win makes him the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama since Richard Shelby was re-elected in 1992, two years before he switched parties to the GOP. It’s also the first statewide Democratic win since Lucy Baxley narrowly won a seat on the Public Service Commission in 2008.
And once Jones takes office, the GOP will have just a 51-49 edge in the Senate. Democrats still face tough math to flip the chamber in 2018, but that math has gotten quite a bit less daunting now, and helpfully, Jones won’t be up for re-election until 2020.
To say this was a weird race would be the understatement of a lifetime. Moore, who was permanently suspended as chief justice of the state Supreme Court last year, had made plenty of enemies in his own party, but he seemed on track to win in this very conservative state until a month before Election Day. Most national Republicans gave up trying to aide Moore after the Washington Post first reported about Moore’s past predatory behavior toward teen girls. Of course, that was only after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies considered several bonkers schemes to delay or outright cancel the special election, like something straight out of a banana republic.
Well, except for one national Republican: Donald Trump loudly proclaimed his loyalty toward Moore in the final weeks of the race and gave him a full-throated endorsement. Democrats feared we’d see a repeat of the Access Hollywood tape from the 2016 election, when Republicans moved away from their nominee but slowly came crawling back in time for Election Day. However, even while some conservatives held their noses and backed Moore, it wasn’t enough, especially in the face of strong turnout in heavily African American areas.
There’s a whole lot more to say about this off-the-wall race, and we expect a few good books to come out of it. But we want to highlight what the New York Times’s Alex Burns wrote on election eve: This election shook out as it did largely because Republican power-players in Alabama and Washington made the worst set of choices they possibly could. It began with Trump himself, who picked then-Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general instead of someone not currently in office who therefore wouldn’t have had a seat to lose.
Trump’s decision (which we bet he especially regrets now) allowed then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who was under investigation for using state resources to cover up an affair with a senior staffer, to pick a replacement senator. And had Bentley picked anyone but Attorney General Luther Strange, who came off looking like an utter sketchball seeing as he was tasked with investigating Bentley, that new senator should have easily won renomination. (Well, anyone aside from Roy Moore. Duh.) As we’ve written before, things got worse for national Republicans from there, culminating in Moore’s primary win and his loss on Tuesday. We’ve seen so many berserk races in just the last few years, but suffice it to say we’ve never seen one like this.