Alabama’s high-stakes Senate election Tuesday perfectly encapsulates how the age of Donald Trump has turned political logic on its head: Republicans may lose by winning and Democrats can win by losing.
Republican Roy Moore denies accusations of child molestation, but he’s riding the President’s endorsement. He’s trying to win a seat in a chamber where GOP leaders brand him unfit to serve and fear he could eviscerate their party’s brand.
Democratic Doug Jones is striving to capitalize on allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore and his record of radical culture war pyrotechnics to become his party’s first senator from deep-red Alabama in 20 years.
The election has far wider implications than the fate of Moore, an icon among evangelical conservatives in the Deep South. The race encapsulates many of the forces convulsing American politics after the tumultuous first year of the Trump presidency and became a testing ground of mobilizing strategies ahead of the midterm elections in 2018.
It has showcased the civil war raging in the Republican Party, between the outsider, populist and almost nihilistic forces represented by Trump and his former political guru Steve Bannon — who has campaigned for Moore — and the more pragmatic, futuristic wings of the party. Trump, with characteristic frankness, is openly saying that he backed Moore because he would be far more favorable to his agenda than a Democrat.
“We can’t have a Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat, Jones, in that important Alabama Senate seat. Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country,” Trump tweeted this weekend.
But in a stunning encapsulation of the Republican dilemma, Alabama’s senior Sen. Richard Shelby admitted on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday: “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.”
A Jones victory would trim the GOP’s Senate majority to only one seat, and improve his party’s chances of an upset seizure of the chamber in 2018. But Democrats are in a “heads I win, tails you lose situation.”
That’s because having purged their own ranks of lawmakers like Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers who are facing allegations of sexual misconduct, they can make Moore the poster boy for the Republican party they argue has ditched ethics and morality in the pursuit of power.
That has left an opening for Democrats to argue that the GOP’s moral authority is fractured and that the party would turn a blind eye to anything — even the sexual harassment of minors — in a quest for power.
“What does the Republican Party stand for?” asked Bakari Sellers, a former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in South Carolina and CNN commentator, spelling out the Democratic strategy on “State of the Union.”
“Even more specifically,” Sellers said, “what do white evangelicals in the south and probably throughout this country stand for that you can turn a blind eye to someone who’s charged credibly with pedophilia, charged credibly with preying on children that you say, ‘oh my God, I’d rather have votes for a tax cut than somebody who is actually a good person?'”
Moore is accused by several women of pursuing sexual relationships with them when they were teenagers, molesting a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old when he was in his 30s. He has repeatedly denied the allegations.
“I never molested anyone,” he said Sunday on the “Voice of Alabama Politics” show.