President Trump must have felt a chill run down his spine last night as he watched election results come in. Like someone had just walked over his political grave.
Yesterday, Alabama voters rejected a loud-mouthed right-wing populist who revels in culture wars, plays footsie with racists, and is credibly accused of sexual assault and harassment. Sound like anyone else we know?
And Alabama is not just any state. It is perhaps the deepest red state of the entire deep red South (except perhaps Mississippi). If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere. Republican strategists must be panicking this morning, because the wave that will sweep them out of Washington is building momentum. Thank God. And thank African-American, women and young voters.
There are many lessons to be learned from yesterday’s momentous special election, and there will be a great many ripples emanating from it.
For Democrats, it shows them that their coalition of voters can work anywhere against a highly controversial candidate unable to expand his support beyond hard-core Republicans, conservatives and racists. Candidates like Donald J. Trump. Candidates like the ones the Steve Bannon types currently dominating the Republican Party are trying to push forward. Even in Alabama.
It shows Democrats that they cannot afford to give up on any state, no matter how red they think it is, just as Hillary Clinton’s loss showed that they cannot afford to take any state for granted, not matter how blue they think it is. Political strategists make their money trying to help political candidates concentrate their resources most effectively, in those few areas that are considered competitive. Their political calculations are not wrong, in a cold-blooded logical way that prizes winning over all else. They are wrong for America, however.
Even in the reddest of red states, like Alabama, there is a sizable minority of voters that votes blue, and if they are motivated to come to the polls, they can make elections much more competitive, and occasionally, against a candidate like Roy Moore (or Donald Trump) they can win. Even making the races more competitive is worthwhile for America, though.
We can’t afford to give up and abandon these voters just because they aren’t likely to produce wins. If we do, they will give up and abandon us, with ripple effects at all political levels.
We can’t afford to irrevocably divide our country into red and blue regional camps. We did that once before. While the war that resulted freed African-Americans from slavery, for which all right-thinking Americans should be eternally grateful, it did so at tremendous cost.
This improbable victory should energize all Democrats to further efforts. Efforts to find strong candidates to challenge everywhere. Efforts to get out the vote. Efforts to resist and foil voter suppression efforts. Efforts to opposing right-wing nationalism, racism, America Firstism and all the other weapons of fear and hate whenever they are used. Efforts to support truth and scientific evidence against lies and sabotage. Efforts to restore sanity to our country.
For Republicans, there are lessons to be learned as well. They learned that their base is still fanatically loyal, but that base is not enough, even in Alabama, to guarantee victory. They learned that bigoted, sleazy candidates can be beaten, even in Alabama. They learned that their majorities in Congress are in serious jeopardy, despite all the gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts. They learned all these lessons and today they fear for their political lives.
Over the last fifty years, beginning with the Southern Strategy, the Republican Party, once the proud home of giants like Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, has gradually sold its soul in pursuit of political gain. It has embraced racists, hate-filled culture warriors and other extremists, while arrogantly assuming it could control them. The party leaders who made these decisions were disastrously wrong. The payment on their deal with the Devil finally came due when Donald J. Trump was nominated to be President. Now they are stuck with it as it runs its course. Struggle as they might, they are not capable of freeing themselves from this trap of their own devising.
Yesterday in Alabama, however, the voters showed that all of America does not have to be caught in that same trap. We are not powerless. We can decide our own fate. Even in Alabama.