Who Won The Alabama Special Election? Doug Jones Wasn't The Only One Who Came Out Ahead
Coming off a big win Tuesday night, there are plenty of reasons for Democrats to look forward to the 2018 midterm elections. They're not the only winners in the Alabama Senate special election, however. There are many other people and groups whose stocks are rising based on the Democratic candidate's victory, and they're gaining enough power to potentially reshape national debate for years to come.
But can the Wednesday morning glow last for everyone who stands to benefit from Doug Jones' upset win? It's a little tough to tell who's really up from who's down.
No one's riding higher this Wednesday than Democrats, who now see the Senate majority within their reach. Without Jones' win, Dems would have needed to pick up three Republican-held seats to change the balance of power in Congress' upper chamber. While the party is looking at Sen. Dean Heller's Nevada seat and Sen. Jeff Flake's Arizona seat as possible pickups (the latter having already announced he won't be seeking reelection), Dems were having a hard time determining which other race should get their attention and resources. With Alabama in the bag now, Dems have a real shot at picking up enough seats to keep Republicans from controlling the Senate during the last two years of Trump's first term.
"I think that I have been waiting all my life and now I just don't know what the hell to say," a surprised Doug Jones told supporters during his victory speech Tuesday night. Jones, once a long-shot candidate in the deep red state, glided to victory as the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama since 1992.
The race was either a nail-biter or a resounding victory, depending on your perspective. Jones squeaked out a win by fewer than 21,000 votes. Compare that to the 22,000 votes for write-in candidates, presumably cast by Republicans who couldn't bring themselves to vote for either Moore or the Democrat. On the other hand, Jones' victory is a stunning upset in a state where President Trump won by nearly 28 points and the incumbent Republican senator beat his Democratic opponent by the same margin in 2016.
The #MeToo Movement
Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed candidate to begin with, but his alleged history of sexual predation also made him uniquely unsuited for this moment in the national conversation (Moore has denied all accusations of misconduct). But the election's results show both that enough people believed the allegations against Moore were true, and that enough people believed those allegations made him unfit to hold national office.
As Vox founder Ezra Klein pointed out Tuesday night, that's not the highest of standards; but in this particular political moment, it is something.
Trump opponents were already asking if the President's own behavior toward women should be re-examined in light of the #MeToo movement that's knocked Hollywood, media, and political stars out of power. After the Alabama election result, expect those calls to grow louder, too.
It's possible that no one wanted Moore in the Senate less than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also has the strongest interest in maintaining the Senate's Republican majority. McConnell was forced between a rock and a hard place when his preferred candidate Luther Strange lost the Republican primary earlier this year.
However, while he no longer has to worry about Moore — who campaigned against him and promised to upset the establishment GOP at all costs — it seems that even as McConnell won this battle, he may well be losing the war (more on that later).
As the only national Democrat to campaign in Alabama for Jones, Sen. Cory Booker showed loyalty to the party while proving he can rile up voters in the South, a traditional G.O.P. stronghold. In an impassioned speech at a Jones campaign rally over the weekend, Booker hit all the high notes for the Democratic Party and gave Alabama voters a moral argument for shutting Moore out of office.
On that note, Booker broke out of the pack by becoming the first prominent lawmaker in his party to call for the president's resignation over allegations that Trump harassed or assaulted more than a dozen women (Trump denies all those allegations and has called the women liars).
Donald Trump and Establishment Republicans
Trump is now a two-time loser in a single special election, after backing the loser of the Republican primary (Luther Strange) and the eventual, unsuccessful Republican candidate (Moore). That means Republicans are questioning the strength of the Trump brand and wondering whether "Teflon Don" is becoming toxic to middle-of-the-road voters.
And while Republicans have some reason to celebrate — they've avoided a potentially messy fight over whether to expel Moore if he was elected — the bottom line is that the GOP is now down to a fragile one-seat majority in the Senate. They must protect that majority at all costs, especially when moderate Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, and Bob Corker have been willing to cross the party line in key votes over the past year. Those lawmakers have emerged as a key coalition in health care and tax negotiations, and they're in a better position to make demands of their party.
Now that it takes only one GOP defector to force Vice President Mike Pence to come in for a a tie-breaker, their votes are more valuable.
The Republican National Committee
The decision to start funding Moore's campaign again after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light and after Moore's poll numbers bounced back is one that could haunt the national Republican Party. Expect Democrats to court the women's vote during next year's midterms by hammering home that when it counted, the GOP decided that holding onto a single Senate seat was worth more than all the women and children of Alabama. It's a powerful attack line, with or without Moore in office.
As the right's agitator-in-chief, Breitbart founder and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon went all in on Moore with the hopes of stirring the pot in a simmering Republican civil war. But after Moore's loss, Bannon has little to show for his time and effort in Alabama.
Alabama's Rural Residents
Bannon sold an us-versus-them message to Moore supporters, who are sure to feel like they don't have a voice in Washington after their candidate's defeat. Polls taken more than a week before the election showed that a majority of Alabama Republicans didn't believe the allegations against Moore, and a majority of those voters said Democrats and the media were to blame. That polarization, plus Bannon's insistence that outside forces are trying to silence voters, suggest the special election result is going to deepen rural voters' feelings of alienation.
The GOP Tax Overhaul
Republicans are in a race to put their tax plan on President Trump's desk before Jones takes his seat in the Senate. If negotiations drag on beyond that point, Jones could cast a vote against the unpopular legislation.
Since Republicans are using special rules to pass their tax package with only 50 votes instead of the 60 votes that are usually required, they'll have just one vote to spare — and Sen. Bob Corker has already voted against it. That would put a hypothetical vote on the tax plan at 50-50, a tie Republicans would still break with Pence's help. Enter moderate Sen. Susan Collins, who's indicated her vote is up in the air pending some items she'd been promised to stabilize the health care law — which House Speaker Paul Ryan now says are off the table anyway.
Put simply, if Jones casts a vote on the tax package, Republicans will need every member of their caucus on board.