The voters of Alabama have spoken and elected Doug Jones. This is a huge loss for President Trump, as it can have major implications for his entire agenda. It is a stunning win for Democrats.
Now that this election is over we still need to look at all the issues that were brought to the fore prior to Tuesday when we had no way to know how the people of Alabama would vote in the special election to replace Jeff Sessions, who was named by Trump to be attorney general. Trump won Alabama by just under 30 percent, which was actually 1.5 percent more than Mitt Romney won it in 2012. In 2014, Sessions ran unopposed in both the Republican primary and the general election, capturing more than 97 percent of the vote.
So based on that backdrop the idea that Doug Jones running as a fairly liberal pro-choice Democrat had a chance in hell of winning is incredible. But the polling in Alabama was all over the place with a general feeling that the race between him and Roy Moore was too close to call.
Clearly there was an unusual situation with Moore being accused of molesting teenagers and harassing and abusing a series of women. In just about any other state this surely would have kept him off the ballot. In Alabama, the governor (a Republican and a woman) said she had no reason to not believe the women making allegations against Moore but would still vote for him. We heard evangelical pastors support Moore some with the rationale that even if he abused teenagers electing him was better than the Democrat’s position on abortion, which was enough for them to say morally Moore was the best choice because abortion could kill millions of unborn babies while Moore has only abused the living and not all that many. Incredible to most of us not living in Alabama and not being of a rabid evangelical faith.
Alabama schools rank 8th worst in the country and their economy is the 8th worst, so other states have even bigger problems; but none had the focus of the nation centered on what Alabamians would do in this election. This was less about education and economy than it is about moral values. What would this election say about what the people of Alabama consider moral enough for a politician? Would they want to be known as the state willing to send an abuser of children to the United States Senate?
The race also became a trial for the Republican Party. The Republican Party in Alabama determined it would continue to support Moore even with all the allegations against him. Initially the national Republican Party withdrew its support. But then Trump, who claims his right to harass and abuse women and has a series of women making allegations against him, decided to give a full-throated endorsement of Moore and the Republican National Committee, representing the Republican Party, once again changed course and endorsed Moore. There were some Republican senators embarrassed enough to say they wouldn’t vote for him including the other Alabama senator, Richard Shelby, who said he instead wrote in a name because he couldn’t vote for Moore. Some Republican senators threatened to vote to expel Moore were he elected.
So, as the people of Alabama went to the polls everyone held their breath. Trump’s tax plan may be on the line. Republicans would be saddled with Moore win or lose as Democrats in 2018 will make hay of the fact that the party endorsed him.
Democrats will be debating if Jones had not been a pro-choice Democrat but rather a pro-life Democrat like Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) would the race have been easier by taking that issue out of the equation. Can the Democratic Party get beyond some of its most ardent progressives and be a big enough tent to allow for pro-life Democrats to run in areas where being pro-choice in a normal election basically guarantees losing? Will they accept a Democratic candidate with Casey’s position who commits to vote for the Democratic leadership and says his position doesn’t mean he would defund Planned Parenthood?
The election of Doug Jones doesn’t in any way end some of these discussions and both parties will have to look deep into how they will run in 2018. Democrats now have the opportunity to take back both chambers of Congress and stop Trump in his tracks. That has to be the Holy Grail and what drives all Democrats and decent thinking people in every party.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.