Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Democrat Wins in Alabama

Last night, Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a special election to fill the US Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. A few random thoughts.

1. You have to compete. The Dems’ biggest tactical mistake during the Obama years was not fielding candidates. The reason Republicans dominate local offices isn’t gerrymandering—it’s because they run for everything from dogcatcher up. Dems will lose 90% of the races like this one—but that means they’ll win 10%, which could be the balance of the Senate and a few statehouses.

2. The anti-democratic mood of the GOP is disturbing. Any time things don’t go their way, they violate norms. McConnell says he’s not seating Jones until after the tax bill is voted on. Moore didn’t concede. This follows the Supreme Court theft and Trump’s threats to ignore the results if he lost. And of course Russia et al. Great win, but wins no longer seem to carry the finality we expect in democracies.

3. The core of the Democratic Party are those who are most at risk from the policies of the GOP—which means nonwhites, the impoverished and sick, the non-straight, and women. Doug Jones is a Senator because of the black vote. I hope the incessant focus on the blue-collar whites ends here. It’s great if that segment can be attracted by progressive policies—some did vote Obama. But there’s this sickness at the heart of American life that Trump and Bannon have exploited. So long as the most important thing to voters is the whiteness of the candidate’s skin, the Dems can’t pander. They just can’t expect black and Latino voters to continue to carry a party that remains racist-tolerant. (This is a controversial argument; I get that.)

4. Political gravity exists. When Trump won, it seemed to violate all the rules of politics. Republicans in particular charged into 2017 with the idea they had some kind of invulnerability shield. Moore was so blasé about this election he didn’t bother to campaign the last few days. But the rules still apply and Trump’s weird win was a flukey situation that depended on a hundred things going his way.
5. Trump is no political savant. Whatever fairy dust Republicans thought he might have had is gone. To review, he backed the loser in the primary, then backed Moore. He backed Gillespie in VA (who lost). That’s going to have repercussions in Congress. Republicans no longer have to fear he’ll be able to target them in elections back home. GOP dysfunction will increase.

6. Bannon is screwed. The GOP is using this election to throw him under the bus. They’ve been looking for a convenient excuse to do so, and he gift-wrapped this stinker for them.

7. I know in my bones we’re going to have a reaction against #metoo, but of all the forces that shaped this election, that was the greatest. It used to be that being a pig carried no risks at all; now it will clearly shave a few points off a margin. This little shaft of light delights me.

8. The Senate hangs in the balance. Dems have the longest of shots to retake the Senate (they have to win in either NV or AZ *and* defend all their own seats), but it’s a bit more plausible this morning. And it really helps in terms of resources. They don’t have to burn through funds trying to win in TX or TN for their 51st state. Those are now just gravy.

9. The GOP is not a governing party. They’re a collection of grievance candidates, anti-government radicals, and big-money toadies. Their factions (firmly swamp vs drain-the-swamp) were already irreconcilable. This makes things worse and gives the (dwindling) non-insane moderate faction in the Senate a lot more power. I’ll be watching to see whether this makes that atrocious tax package more likely (because they have to rush it through for that elusive “win”) or less likely (because there’s less cover for the Collinses and McCains). Future legislation seems highly unlikely.

Very interesting moment in American politics.

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