HORIST: After Alabama
Rarely does the result in a single political race have more facets than the Hope Diamond. But, the defeat of Judge Roy Moore is that exception.
Judging Judge Moore
First, there is the issue of Roy Moore. In most cases, the primary election process nominates the strongest candidates of the respective parties. In the Alabama Senate election, the Democrats did nominate a strong and appealing candidate. In a Republican state like Alabama, that would not at all assure success in the general election. Roy Moore was well known throughout Alabama, but by far not the best candidate.
With so much attention on the accusations of sexual misconduct with under legal age teenagers, it is easy to forget that Moore was already a controversial – and some say flawed – candidate before the first lady went public. He had won very narrow victories to the Alabama Supreme Court only to be booted off for philosophic extremism that had him violating law and the Constitution.
His religious convictions can be viewed as an indication of high morality, but to impose them on even a conservative secular society is inappropriate. Many of his religious-based beliefs ran contrary to American culture. The absurdity of looking favorably on the age of slavery sounds more like historic romanticism and the anachronistic language of post-Civil War Democrats who, having lost on the issue of slavery, imposed the oppressive institution of de jure racism. Whatever his meaning, Moore’s statements were maladroit, to put it kindly.
While the Catholic Church, many evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Muslims and other religious devotees view homosexuality as a sin, it is not the view of modern American society. The gay community has been normalized in terms of Constitutional rights – including jobs, residency, military service and marriage. The only unsettled issue appears to be birthday cakes. The greater issue of gay rights in American is largely settled, and it will not be reversed. There are many conservative Republicans even in Alabama that disagreed with Moore on that issue.
The accusations merely added that last straw that broke the back of his campaign. Despite the fact that Moore’s critics subjected the facts of the case to hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, the stories of most of the women – especially the more torrid details of the youngest at the time — were credible. And that is all that is required in the court of public opinion.
There is no doubt that the Moore loss is a blow to the Republican policy agenda, but it is not without a greater blessing – and that is avoiding a very ugly and damaging political drama dealing with committee assignments, a formal ethics investigation and endless repetitive negative news stories.
Bye Bye Bannon
The Alabama result should be the coup de grace to the narrative that political gadfly Steve Bannon is a positive or powerful tour de force within Republican politics. From the onset, there has been an undercurrent of speculation that Bannon was overrated as a political impresario. In most cases, Republican candidates succeed without or despite his intramural opposition. He is more likely to ride waves than to create them. In those few instances where Bannon can take credit for promoting candidacies, his choices have been needlessly controversial and notably unsuccessful. His claims to be bringing down the Republican establishment – or even to have the potential of doing so — are highly exaggerated.
Bannon has been doing something that should have Trump upset, to say the least. Bannon has stolen much of the Trump constituency. Rather than being the faithful foot soldier for the President, Bannon is selling himself as the leader of the movement. This was most evident in Alabama with Trump and Bannon on opposite sides in the Moore/Strange (or is it most strange?) primary campaign.
Bannon will maintain more than the proverbial l5 minutes of fame because he has a major donor backing his quixotic endeavors. He has Breitbart News as a personal megaphone He has the favor of the elitist media eager to use Bannon as a bad example that discredits the Republican brand.
As Judge Moore disappears from the political scene, Bannon will minimally be greatly diminished – and for the GOP and President Trump, that is a good thing.
In more than 50 years in Republican politics, I cannot think of a President or a major Republican leader who has advanced conservative principles as much as Donald Trump. His judicial picks have been consistently textualists and strict constructionists from the Supreme Court to the hundreds of nominations for the federal district and appellate courts. He is cutting regulations and the federal workforce more than Reagan – and if the tax bill is enacted into law, he will have produced one of the largest tax cuts in American history. His foreign policy of peace through strength is in line with Reagan’s successful policies. He brandishes the “big stick” of Teddy Roosevelt without speaking softly.
Alabama is not a turning point in the Trump presidency, but the continuation of a downward trend. It has been reflected in the polling numbers. And though they can be subject to question, the closeness of the Special Election in Georgia and the defeats in Virginia and elsewhere around the country in special and local elections are ominous signs.
Trump jumped into the Alabama senate race with both feet. He first belatedly endorsed incumbent Senator Luther Strange. Whether it was an impulsive action or bad political advice is indeterminable, but his endorsement did not move the vote in favor of Strange. His belated endorsement of Moore was even more problematic. Not only did it not produce a Moore victory in an overwhelmingly Republican state, but it again brought up the issue of sexual improprieties that has dogged him since the campaign. The Trump brand, and to some degree the Republican Brand, come out of Alabama a bit more tattered.
Coming into 2016, the Republican Party was riding at the crest of voter sentiment. The American people, since 2010, had handed over to the GOP a broad range of unprecedented power in Congress and in two-thirds of the states. While Trump pulled out an Electoral College victory, his personality and his past lifestyle tamped down the Republican tsunami. And despite his impressive conservative policy successes – with more to come – he has allowed the Democrats and the media to deflect public attention from policies to Achilles Heal – that pugnacious and erratic personality.
The good news is that with Moore’s defeat and Bannon’s diminishment, Trump has an opportunity to re-establish Republican principles supremacy, but so far he seems unable do that – and even unable to know how to do it. Playing it wrong in Alabama did not help.
The Republican Party
Among the American public, Republican conservatism is the most popular governing philosophy. Ironically, at the very moment the GOP was given the power to enact all those popular policies, splinters appeared on almost every issue. Unlike the Democrats doctrinaire conformity, Republicans of independent mind prevented the technical majority in Congress to function like a majority – giving the Democrats an informal veto power. The tail is wagging the dog.
This dissention in the ranks reached epic proportions over the Moore nomination. Even as Trump maladroitly jumped into the Alabama race, powerful GOP leaders were bailing out. Even the senior Republican senator from Alabama publicly proclaimed his vote against Moore.
The political events in Alabama will not be long remembered as more important issues de jure arise in the political environment. The GOP can still regain the high ground in time to expand their majority in 2018, but it will take a change in the current trajectory. The warning signs abound – and Alabama was a big one.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.