MONTGOMERY, Ala. ― “God is always in control.”
A visibly shaken, rambling Roy Moore told a venue full of his supporters that he’d “wait on God” for direction, minutes after he and his holier-than-thou Senate campaign collapsed in a devastating loss to a Democrat in Alabama.
But if God did take the wheel Tuesday night, she was already on Interstate 65, hightailing it to Birmingham to kick it with election winner Doug Jones.
Jones’ victory party would undoubtedly be more gracious than Moore’s sullen affair, with its tiny white-bread sandwich slivers and where a saxophone cover of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth” served as the night’s only respite.
No sooner had the election map turned blue than the Republicans at this party began to point fingers.
“There’s blood in the water for Mitch McConnell, it leads back to him. This room is gonna be walking out with a vengeance. We know who’s responsible,” said Chanel Rion, the 27-year-old fiancee of Missouri Senate candidate Courtland Sykes.
Sykes himself was even more fire-and-brimstone, worried that establishment Republicans ― not Democrats ― were winning the war against “MAGA candidates,” a shorthand for President Donald Trump’s “make America great again” campaign slogan.
“This is impossible. This is 100-percent an effort by the Washington establishment to keep Roy Moore out of it,” Sykes told HuffPost. “If they can put a Democrat in office in Alabama, in 2017, to replace Jeff Sessions, even after Donald Trump won by a landslide in 2016, that means they can replace anyone they want. We don’t have an honest republic if this can happen. Does that make sense?”
Others pointed to Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who on Sunday admitted he didn’t vote for Moore and said the “Republican Party can do better.” One Moore supporter was overheard saying he’d like to find an establishment Republican like Shelby to “punch in the face” for involvement in Moore’s downfall.
Then there was Trump, who threw his support to Moore after backing his GOP opponent during the primary. Trump is now 0-for-2 in his Alabama endorsements.
“What didn’t help is Republicans jumping ship during Roy Moore’s greatest time of need,” said Ben Smith, 25, a conservative University of Alabama student. “That destroyed any party unity we had left ... I’m kind of just numb right now.”
Of course, no fingers were pointed in the direction of Moore himself, despite allegations that he sexually assaulted a child and harassed others. Nobody pointed at Moore, who ran for office after being defrocked as a judge ― twice ― for disrespecting federal law in favor of his God-and-country platform. Not one supporter we spoke to cast blame on the ex-judge from Gallant, who used to sign Bibles at his courthouse.
Moore gave a short, stuttering speech before he left on Tuesday ― an uncomfortable bookend to an awkward 24 hours. The night before, his wife Kayla bragged that the couple weren’t anti-Semitic because “one of our attorneys is a Jew.” Then, one of Moore’s old war buddies said the pals accidentally stumbled into a brothel together that was full of “very young” women.
On Tuesday morning in Gallant, Moore and his horse Sassy were effectively chased out of his own polling center by a throng of reporters desperate for quotes about a possible ethics violation should he win.
Nobody at his party had expected a loss like this.
There were rumblings of discontent well before the ex-judge faced allegations of sexual assault. Republicans at his own events had previously said they disliked him; conservative Christians said they didn’t trust him. After women began coming forward to describe how Moore pursued them as teens when he was in his 30s, lawyers and cops said they didn’t have the evidence at the time to throw the book at him.
In any case, Moore is gone for a while, along with the horse he rode in on. It leaves Democrats with a rare opportunity for a one-two punch.
A few blocks from Moore’s gathering, near the steps of the state capitol, some Jones supporters were at a bar celebrating, and plotting to flip more Alabama elections blue. Tabitha Isner ― who’s running for the state’s 2nd Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Rep. Martha Roby ― is one of those machinators.
“I’m elated. It’s been a struggle so far to convince people that it’s possible to flip these districts. People have this sense in Alabama that it can’t be done ― but we changed that mindset tonight,” Isner said. “I’m excited that so many more things are possible now that were not possible just a few hours ago.”