It’s 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. Too bad there’s nothing for me to write about. Just as we were in the final stages of sifting through the tea leaves from Tuesday’s surprising off-year elections, The Washington Post delivered a bombshell. The newspaper reported allegations that roughly four decades ago, Roy Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice and currently the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate seat in that state, made sexual advances toward four teenage girls, the youngest only 14. At the time, Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, fellow Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, and Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have issued statements that if the story is true, Moore should withdraw from the race against Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney. The election is scheduled for Dec. 12.
Note the “if,” which is a subjective term. McConnell and Gardner get to define it according to their own lights. A friend who is intimately familiar with Alabama politics, and not a Moore supporter, reminds me that “no one—with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton—has less effect in Alabama than Mitch McConnell.” One might add that in Alabama, The Washington Post would be right down there with him.
I don’t mean to suggest that Moore will survive this, but we need to remind ourselves that there is a substantial block of American voters who do not trust anyone or anything from Washington. As we learned in the 2016 election, those people are disproportionately in small-town and rural America, they tend to be white, and they tend to have less than a college degree. They also tend to be evangelical Christians. They also tend to be in the South and in the Rust Belt. In some cases, they don’t hear anything they don’t want to hear. They only listen to media outlets that share their preconceptions. (I should hasten to add that there are plenty of liberals who live in their own media cocoon.)
We have just described Roy Moore supporters as well as those who voted for and still support President Trump. By the way, after having received more unfavorable news coverage than any president, including Richard Nixon, Trump had a job approval rating of 37 percent in the three-night Gallup moving average released earlier Thursday. It’s a decent bet that his numbers are higher in Alabama. This is not to say that Moore will deflect this direct torpedo hit to the engine room, just that there are a lot of people who are impervious to certain kinds of news stories coming from certain kinds of news organizations, aka the Mainstream Media.
I also recall that in the 2012 Senate race in Missouri, every living current and former Republican senator of that state came out in favor of dumping then-Rep. Todd Akin from the race after he said that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” usually don’t get pregnant. But Akin stayed in and lost the general election to Democrat Claire McCaskill. This is only to suggest that we don’t know what is going to happen and shouldn’t assume that Moore is going to drop out and be replaced by someone else. (My guess is that the state Republican Party would be able to somehow designate a replacement, as is the case in most states).
The speculation above goes about as far as it can responsibly go at this moment, but let’s just say that this story broke when Republicans were having a bad week. Even if many Alabama voters who before today intended to cast their ballots for Moore still vote for him, assuming he is still on the ballot, it’s probably safe to say that Doug Jones will get a lot more votes than he would have before today. Democrats who might not have bothered to vote will be more motivated, while those establishment-oriented Republicans who backed appointed-Sen. Luther Strange for the nomination might stay at home or more likely vote against Moore than for him.
If you are a Democrat, there are two things to fear. First, that Moore is somehow replaced by a less-controversial Republican, in which case Jones’s chances go down the drain. Second, that this race effectively becomes nationalized, as the Sixth District special election in Georgia was, and it simply becomes a party vote, as in “do you want a Republican or a Democrat,” regardless of who they are. That’s what ended up happening in Georgia, where a Democrat led until the final balloting.
Even before this story, the extremely controversial Moore was about as weak a GOP nominee as one could have in Alabama, but he was still the very strong favorite. After all, Trump won the state by 28 points, 62 to 34 percent, and Mitt Romney won by 23 points, 61 to 38 percent. Increasingly in recent years, more voters are inclined to vote for people wearing the same color jerseys, either blue or red, up and down the ballot. Those from the South will remember the moniker, “Yellow Dog Democrat,” as in, “John would vote for a yellow dog, if the dog was a Democrat.”
Whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or just a gobsmacked observer, my advice is to take a deep breath, buckle your seat belt, assume nothing, and watch Alabama’s soap opera play out. The only thing nearly dead-certain in the state is a win by the University of Alabama football team.