Moore’s win conjures 2018 nightmare — for both parties
Roy Moore’s win in Alabama’s Senate primary has raised the specter of a nightmare scenario for Democrats and Republicans: The GOP picks up a handful of seats next year, padding its Senate majority, but with candidates like Moore, who buck party leadership as often as they fall in line.
The Alabama race is the latest contest forcing both parties to take seriously candidates they once might have dismissed as unelectable. Early in 2016, several prominent Democrats exulted in Donald Trump’s meteoric rise, urging fellow liberals to support his nomination on the grounds that it would virtually guarantee a Republican defeat. Then he won the election.
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Some Democrats similarly cheered Moore’s ascent, arguing that he’d be easier to take down in the December general election. But others are alarmed by the prospect of a Trump-inspired bloc in the Senate.
“All of us who saw the rise of Trump and thought, ‘Oh, this country could never elect somebody who brags about assaulting women and mocks the disabled and war veterans, we’re thinking differently now,” said Paul Begala, the veteran Democratic strategists. Begala at one point rooted for Trump’s candidacy, attributing it to “the fact that the good Lord is a Democrat with a good sense of humor.”
“What do they say in recoveries? You have to hit bottom? I thought that with Trump they hit bottom,” Begala said of the GOP. “But, apparently not, because Moore is worse.”
Republicans have their own fears about a Sen. Moore. They agree not only that the GOP is likely to hold the Alabama seat, but that Moore’s victory will inspire a rash of anti-establishment candidates who sow chaos and make Congress even more dysfunctional if they manage to make it there. And party hands are no longer writing them off.
Rank-and-file Republicans, who spent more than $13 million to stop Moore, were startled by Tuesday’s results. They said they understood how candidates across the country could tap into the same anti-establishment fervor that helped Moore — who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court, once for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments — overpower Strange.
“The thing that Roy Moore really has, and everybody thinks it’s the Ten Commandments, it’s actually taking on The Man. And that’s kind of a bipartisan thing. That’s a Trump thing, that’s a Chris McDaniel thing,” said Jeff Roe, who served as Strange’s chief political consultant, referring to the Mississippi candidate who came within half a percentage point of unseating Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014.
No one is happier about the current state of affairs than the president’s old chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who is lending aid and encouragement to renegade candidates across the country. On Monday, after speaking at a Moore rally, he dined with McDaniel and Mark Green, a prospective Senate candidate from Tennessee, at the Marriott resort in Point Clear, Alabama.
McDaniel is almost certain to challenge another Republican incumbent, Roger Wicker, next year, and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s announcement on Tuesday that he plans to retire leaves the primary field in that state wide open. Green, a state senator, withdrew his nomination for Army secretary in May after news reports about his controversial views on gays and Muslims.
Bannon said on Wednesday that he was boarding a flight “out West” to meet with other candidates, though he declined to specify the exact location. Already, anti-establishment contenders are on the horizon, not only in Mississippi and Tennessee, but also in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Maine.
“We’re going to war,” Bannon said in an interview. “This is not a pillow fight, this is a fight fight.”