I’m glad Roy Moore lost on Tuesday. While there’s a respectable argument that a conservative agenda might have been advanced had that Senate seat remained Republican, it’s just as arguable that Moore would have been a detriment to conservative causes by virtue of him being Roy Moore. The American Conservative’s Jim Antle made that case, that Moore’s election could actually hurt efforts to protect religious liberty, while TAC’s Gracy Olmstead ably explained why she believed “Electing Roy Moore Will Be the Doom of the Pro-Life Movement.”
I think Moore’s loss is a win for conservatives because any right-of-center movement worth having is eventually going to have to develop a positive agenda as opposed to simply opposing the left and GOP establishment. Yes, it’s true that a largely negative campaign elected the current Republican president, but to what end? Will that happen every cycle? Donald Trump won through a combination of white and working-class identity politics and voters’ deep dislike of Hillary Clinton. Moore also pushed an identity politics campaign, while also harping on his opponent’s platform weaknesses, particularly Doug Jones’ extreme abortion views.
And yet the hard-right Republican was defeated by a Democrat many conservatives considered an abortion extremist in the deep red state of Alabama.
The media and much of the left blared headlines along the lines of “major blow to Donald Trump” and “a rebuke to Steve Bannon.” But is that actually what happened? The margin between the winner Jones and loser Moore was 1.5 percent. We’re talking about a few thousand votes. If that small number of ballots had swung in the other direction, would it have been a major victory for Trump and Bannon? We can be sure that many in the media, especially certain right-wing journalists, would be making that claim right now.
If a major landslide occurs for one candidate or another, the result can easily be declared a mandate or recognized as being indicative of which way the nation or a locality might be drifting politically. But is it possible that a politician can eke out a victory without it being considered an endorsement by their voters of their entire brand? That it’s not an up or down wholesale embrace or condemnation of whatever the Democrats or Republicans might be selling in any given election? Sometimes the cookie just crumbles the way it does. Elections can be decided based on any number of random variables that may or may not correlate or add up to any definitive conclusions.
That’s largely what happened in 2016. Hillary Clinton losing was not a complete rejection of Democrats or their agenda because it wasn’t a landslide election (indeed, as Democrats never tire of pointing out, Clinton won the popular vote). Her loss did not mean Democrats were doomed for the foreseeable future. There were too many moving parts that served to undermine such a blanket statement.
Trump winning in 2016 also did not mean nationalism and populism would be the new Republican Party from now on. Perhaps that was reinforced on Tuesday night, as Roy Moore’s boldly nationalist and populist campaign succumbed to defeat.
Or perhaps it wasn’t. It really is just speculation when the vote is as close as it was in Alabama. Many conservatives in that state very probably would have voted more passionately for a different kind of Republican candidate. We can be sure that a pro-life Democrat would have also picked up more support than Jones did. Similarly, not all Democrats are going to have the luxury of running against a Republican who’s been branded as a pedophile.
So liberalism ascendant? Nationalism falling? The moribund Democratic Party finally getting back on its feet? Who can say? One can’t consider all these factors and arrive at a conclusion that leans favorably for either party in any meaningful way. Too often we get caught up in media-created narratives that might look good on cable news chyrons, but don’t reflect actual reality.
Politics is fleeting. The “new normal” so often isn’t. Alabamans went to the polls this week, where the Democrat barely won and the Republican barely lost. Regarding America’s political future, honest observers probably shouldn’t try to read too much into what happened.
Jack Hunter is the political editor of Rare.us.