Alabama Senate Race Post-Mortem: Democrats Don’t Get Out-Jesused Again

Happy Birthday to me! I publish today’s column on my 53rd birthday. Mike, Mr. Darcy, and I are in Sweet Home Alabama right now planning for Mother’s surgery tomorrow. This year, it’s a southern Christmas for us.

Speaking of Alabama, I enjoyed the hell out of watching last week’s Alabama senate race election results roll in, county by county. Alabama elections are ALWAYS interesting whether the national press comes along for the ride or not.

As readers of my last column know, I endorsed Roy Moore for two reasons: I wanted the senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions to stay in Republican hands, and I did not want to see unsubstantiated accusations from forty years ago be the basis of Moore’s defeat. I am no fan of Roy Moore, but I am even less of a fan of weaponized rape allegations. This issue is larger than some dirtbag demagogue from Dixie. The timing of the allegations against Moore seemed extremely suspect. Nationally, this issue is rapidly reaching hysteria level. Over the weekend, a story broke about attorney Lisa Bloom, Democratic Party advocate and daughter of lawyer Gloria Allred, securing “donations ” for women who made sexual misconduct allegations about Donald Trump. I am uncomfortable with the current practice of trying men in the press, not in the courts, particularly when I believe the charges may be merely “opposition research.”

Still, even though I endorsed Moore last week, by midday on election day I suspected he would lose. Here is what I posted on my Facebook page at 11:16 a.m. last Tuesday, about seven hours before the polls closed:

DZ’s prognostication based on “exit polling” I’m seeing so far on the [Facebook news] feed:
I have a hunch that Doug Jones may win this thing. I’m seeing a lot of conservative voters who plan to write in another candidate. This will serve to split the conservative vote. Some other conservatives plan to stay home. The enthusiasm is clearly in favor of the Democrats. If Democrats pull this off in Deep Red Alabama, political scientists are going to have a lot to discuss about the Democrats’ strategy, which is, namely, this:
1. After two decades of Bill Clinton’s being the Dems’ standard bearer, denounce the Clintons.
2. Claim, with a straight face, that in retrospect, Clinton should have been removed from office after Monica Lewinsky.
3.Get Al Franken to say he’s going to resign “in a few weeks.”
4. Find and promote women willing to claim Roy Moore is guilty of sexual assault.
5. Claim the moral high ground by telling Alabama Christians they just can’t support a child rapist, or they’re hypocrites who will once again embarrass the state.
6. Sit back and wait.

If this works, all I can say is, well played, Democrats. Well played.

I was dead right. After Doug Jones won, conservatives were casting blame. Some blamed Stephen Bannon, who had campaigned vigorously for Moore. Others claimed that Mitch McConnell’s early support of Luther Strange alienated Alabamians, who turned to Moore. The typical circular firing squad began within the party of stupid.

Far more interesting to me was the strategy Democrats employed to “steal” the senate seat in Alabama. My liberal Facebook friends celebrated and said, “Alabama is on the right side of history for a change!” Such explanations rely on a tiresome, self-righteous cliché.  Actually, the Democrat Party in operation in Alabama last Tuesday harkens back to the old party of George Wallace, who, after losing the 1958 gubernatorial race to segregationist John Patterson, vowed he would not be “out-segged” again. (Wallace is alleged to have used another, more offensive term.)  After this defeat, Wallace, previously a racial moderate, knew he had to pander to the segregationist vote, so he transformed into a candidate more palatable to the Alabama electorate. Similarly, after the humiliating presidential election of 2016, the Democrat machine rolled into Alabama like Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide roll over a formidable opponent. Dems threw down with bare-knuckled, mean-ass, demagogic politics in an attempt to win back rural religious voters. In short, the Democrats would not be “out Jesus-ed” again.

Democrats trashed the remnants of an already vulnerable opponent’s reputation on precisely the issues Moore himself had demagoggued for years: religion and moral piety. Sensing that white-collar, college-educated conservative professionals in Alabama probably would not turn out for someone they viewed as an embarrassment to the state, Dems went on the offensive and attacked Moore in a way that would give pause to many in the religious community. Democrat operatives gambled correctly that enough religious conservatives would be troubled by the mere prospect of voting for a “child predator.”  Combined with a tremendous get-out-the-vote effort in Birmingham, Montgomery, and other areas with higher percentages of African-American voters, and Democrats managed to pull off some pretty impressive “strategery,” as Rush Limbaugh might say.

But in doing so, Democrats have their own problems to be concerned with. This sudden pious moralizing over sexual harassment and assault will ensnare Democrat zealots the same way Moore tripped himself up with his own grand-standing. This current climate of “warlock hunting,” as one writer called it, where mere allegations of sexual assault are taken as fact, won’t end well.

As a former Democrat myself, I’ve long noted the difference with how Democrats fight to win most of the time. Often I think mainstream Republicans find the entire business of politics unseemly, unless it’s the behind-the-scenes Karl Rove-style numbers crunching and sleazy, covert oppo research so crucial during the George W. Bush years. Traditional Republicans tend to be like Mitt Romney–a little milquetoast, preferring instead not to answer charges against themselves rather than battling back–kind of the “I won’t dignify that with a comment” go-along-to-get-along strategy. It’s not that they’re more moral–it’s just a part of the more reserved, non-activist temperament. It may even be a little bit of laziness, as the 1948 Truman-Dewey election demonstrated. Truman worked his ass off to win. Dewey just assumed that Truman was so unpopular he’d be trounced in the general.

That’s why a lot of working-class Republicans (formerly a voting bloc within the Democrat Party) liked Trump so much. He was the antithesis of this laid-back, typical Republican and would meet Democrats’ snark with even snarkier retorts. Working class voters ate it up, but more mainstream types have always been uneasy about DJT. In contrast to 2016, those more mainstream types just could not be persuaded to turn out for another lighting rod like Roy Moore.

 As far as the Democrats are concerned, expect at least some significant pivot in the South and Midwest to try and bring back working-class Christian voters into the Democrat Party fold. I was watching Tucker Carlson’s show last week, when he was interviewing a consultant from the Center for American Progress. The consultant referenced Trump’s feud with Kirsten Gillibrand and said Gillibrand was “in church” when she learned President Trump had tweeted “sexist” remarks about her.

Prepare for the Democratic Party to come to Jesus–at least in the South and Midwest–before the 2018 mid-term congressional elections. Ultimately, for Republicans, holding together the uneasy coalition of mainstream and blue-collar conservative voters will be the test in 2018. Buckle up for the ride, fellow political junkies.