Some random thoughts on Tuesday’s historic election in Alabama.
First, a question: why is Donald Trump like a man who owns no formal clothes? He has no coattails.
Trump backed Ed Gillespie in VA, Luther Strange and Roy Moore in AL. All lost. This is a big deal; if he can’t control voters, he can’t take retribution against Republican candidates, and they can defy him. Senator Grassley, eg, now says Trump’s judicial nominees won’t get confirmed. Look for more independence in Congress, more feistiness from legislators.
Next, the Senate is up for grabs. A Democratic victory remains a long shot, but it is over the distant horizon. Stuart Rothenberg, of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report, tweeted: “Suddenly, the Senate is in play in 2018. Democrats can get to +3 if every race falls for them. Still a challenge, but now possible.”
The Democrats now have what George H.W. Bush called the Big Mo, or momentum. They’re energized, and the Republicans are grappling with a problematic head of ticket. As a piece by Nate Cohn in the New York Times declared, “Tuesday in Alabama, Democrats benefited from strong turnout that plainly exceeded midterm levels, while white working-class Republicans voted in weaker numbers.”
Thus, Trump may actually do what Obama failed miserably at, revitalizing the Democratic Party at the local level. Barack Obama was an amazing and charismatic leader, but a poor custodian of the institution he headed. Democratic ranks at all levels plummeted to dismal levels during his two terms. As one pundit put it, Obama was good for his brand, poor for his party’s.
But now, thanks to outrage over Trump, the party is roaring and about to make major inroads everywhere; they’re on a roll. Emily’s List is flooded with women who want to run. One estimate: 20,000 women nationally standing up to become candidates.
Republicans should be very, very worried. Yes, Alabama was a perfect storm of factors in the Dems favor, but if they can win in AL, a state so set against them, there is a possible game plan for other places, like Nevada and Arizona. An LA Times headline in the print edition, on a piece by Cathleen Decker, called the victory a “roadmap for Democrats”
Why did Jones win? Clearly he ran a superb campaign, while Moore was repugnant. But which groups were decisive?
Howell Raines, one of the great American journalists and an Alabaman through and through, on MSNBC claimed that it was the state’s social leaders who turned on Moore and carried the heavy weight. Alabama remains, as in the past, a state where status and hierarchy count enormously.
With the deepest respect for Mr. Raines and all he has done, I disagree, and feel the numbers do not bear out his analysis.
It is clear that Alabama’s economic and social elite turned against Roy Moore and sent word for everyone else to take the cue and vote accordingly. And the group most likely to heed this directive were white voters, both educated and otherwise; Jones definitely made significant inroads among these groups. However, according to the Washington Post, that: “Exit poll results showed Moore faring worse among white voters than Republicans in previous Alabama elections, but he maintained a lead among both white men and women and those with and without college degrees.” Even among white college educated women, Moore led Jones 52%-45%. White women without college education favored Moore over Jones, 73%-25%. Figures for white college educated men in the state were even more stark, carrying Moore 62% to 35%, while uneducated white men went 79% to 19%. If Alabama’s social leaders in Birmingham and Montgomery were sending a message, the voters most likely to heed the call weren’t following orders.
One notable exception to this argument: Richard Shelby, an esteemed party elder of the highest order, sent a clarion call, and fostered twenty-thousand plus write-in ballots that were crucial to Jones’ victory.
So who did put Moore over the top? There were two groups.
Blacks turned out big time, giving Jones a tournout and victory margins as high or higher than they did for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. These voters were the least likely to be influenced by rich whites, but were mobilized by their pastors and by their neighbors. A month ago a friend of mine with contacts in Alabama’s black community reported that leaders there were tearing their hair out over the apathy. But they went out and did the terribly hard work that still counts in modern politics, and got their people to the polls. And won. As a New York Times article put it, “The word traveled, urgently and insistently, along the informal networks of black friends, black family and black co-workers: Vote.” They also came up with the best and bluntest slogan of the race. Simple, powerful, they just told their constituents “Vote or Die”. The Atlantic headlined, “African American voters made Doug Jones a U.S. Senator in Alabama”.
The other group that was decisive was young voters of all races. The exit polls showed that, “Alabama voters ages 18 to 44 supported Jones by a roughly 20-point margin over Moore, marking a stark shift from 2012 when Mitt Romney won voters under 45 by a small margin.” Voters 18-29 chose Jones over Moore, 60% to 38%, while the 30-44 age group took the same path, by 61% to 38%. Older Alabama voters, on the other hand, went for Moore in almost the reverse numbers, 59% to 40%.
Several points on the youth figures. First, this is the group least influenced by white elites and most by social media. They reached their own decisions, and did not heed the hierarchy.
Next, along with the suburban shift in the Virginia election, this is the most devastating trend for Republicans. Back in the eighties, Ronald Reagan’s powerful presence shifted the youth vote to the GOP, and it remained a factor for decades. If this is happening now in the other direction, any Republican with an eye to the future must shudder over these results.
Next, regarding the black vote, the figures are only a first part of the story. Charles Barkley, the basketball star and Alabama native who campaigned so vigorously for Jones, on election night, amidst all the revelry, also told CNN that a reckoning was due. The Democratic Party, he declared, could no longer take black votes for granted and had to start delivering on issues embraced by their community. Black concerns must now be up there with the Dreamers as a Dem priority. A bill on police reform would be a good start.
The person to watch after this election, on a national level, is definitely Doug Jones. First he has to get past 2020, when the Republicans will be targeting his seat with full fury.
If he makes it however, he has enormous potential. If you doubt that, listen to his victory speech on YouTube. It was humble, gracious, inclusive, and inspired. And it reminded me of one other speech.
Back in the eighties, when I worked for the Chicago Urban League, staffers were required to turn out for various events. One of those I attended was the announcement of a local bank investing in the black South Side. The speaker at the reception was a governor from the Deep South. Not expecting much, I showed up; duty called.
Except he was unbelievable, astonishing everyone with a vibrant, deeply progressive speech. Decades later, I called my best buddy from those years and she confirmed, “Yes, we stood fifty feet away from Bill Clinton.” That’s who Doug Jones reminded me of that night.
Finally, some awards.
The biggest loser? Not Trump, but the evangelical community. By supporting an accused pedophile and a pussy-grabber they showed that they are no longer a church of Christ, but rather a wing of the Republican Party; ignoring Moore’s transgressions, 80% of white evangelicals in the state voted for him. A number of pieces have been written by former followers who have dropped out or changed denominations, and the figures among young Americans are dwindling. An article in the Washington Post reported how, “The editor in chief of evangelical magazine Christianity Today said the biggest loser in Tuesday’s election was Christians, writing ‘no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.’”
The biggest winner: Thank you, Alabama!!!
Thomas Friedman put it best, summing up the feelings of this author and many others.
There are so many things I could say right now after watching Doug Jones defeat Roy Moore in the Senate race in Alabama, but for me it comes down to just two words: “Thank you.”
Thank you to the majority of Alabamians for loving our country more than you hated Democrats. Thank you for voting as citizens, not as members of a tribe. Thank you for understanding that sending a credibly accused child molester to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate would not only have denigrated your state, it would have denigrated that whole legislative body. Thank you for seeing the decency of Doug Jones, even though he is a Democrat, and seeing the indecency of Roy Moore.
And most of all, thank you for sending a message to Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon that you are not as dumb as they think you are.
And finally, the stupidest lines of the campaign. And even for this dubious honor, Donald Trump can still not take the crown.
The runner up award goes to : Mr. Moore’s wife, Kayla, who angrily denied charges the couple was anti-Semitic by noting “one of our attorneys is a Jew”. Seth Meyer pointed out how awfully this plays to dangerous Jewish stereotypes, and compared it to saying, “I have no problem with black people; they’re always welcome on my basketball team.”
But the big trophy goes to Steve Bannon. In order to understand this, you have to know something about Alabama.
The state’s residents have various things they are proud of, but at the top of the list is the University of Alabama. The reason for this is clear; outsiders think locals obsess over the Confederacy and its monuments, but the real religion is football, and in particular the collegiate version. Nothing, outside of the church, is as big a deal as University of Alabama football. Nick Saban, the team’s winning coach, could easily be chosen pope if the state’s residents switched religion.
So in the middle of a heated campaign—in Alabama—Steve Bannon attacked Joe Scarborough, calling him out in demeaning terms: “That's right, Joe, I got into some Yankee schools, Georgetown and Harvard, that I don't think you made the cut on, brother.”
Unfortunately for Bannon, he was unaware of the fact that Scarborough had graduated from…cue the Crimson Tide. Scarborough tweeted back: “Hey Bannon, you only went to Harvard because you couldn't get into Alabama. #RollDamnTide”
Match, set, game.