The first question that comes to mind after squandering a deep red Senate seat is what happened and who is to blame. Until we properly identify the culprits, we cannot work to prevent this from happening again. So let's take a look.
1. Roy Moore
Roy Moore was a bad candidate. I supported him in the runoff after supporting Brooks in the primary. Moore has chronic problems that have always hampered his campaigns and it sunk him this time. He is not a good speaker. He tends to phrase things in ways that make it extremely easy to take him out of context and attribute other meanings to what he says. He has an attraction to conspiracy theories or is at least too entertaining of them. He doesn't campaign hard. He doesn't raise money. He coasts on name ID as his campaign vehicle. He will not produce negative ads, even truthful ones. His advisors are as bad or worse than he is and almost all of them present a terrible image and a terrible defense.
If the allegations are true, then all of the blame lies on Roy Moore for his behavior. However, I do not believe them, particularly the serious ones. Moore's defense of himself was disjointed and downright awful. I could not imagine how a person could mount a worse defense if they were trying to. Some of that is Moore's eccentricity and social awkwardness. Some of it is just being in a bubble and not understanding how you are viewed by other people. The circle was simply too tight. This is where you bring in a guy like Steve Deace that knows you and supports you, but isn't going to sugar coat it like the rest of Moore's bubble apparently did. Moore went dark for most of the period following the allegations as opposed to giving a strong defense of himself. That is on Moore. In a race lost by less than 2%, that made the difference.
2. Mitch McConnell
McConnell put an estimated $30 million into the Alabama Senate primary in a deep red state. He did so to support Luther Strange, who was appointed under very unethical circumstances, in addition to his other legal and ethical issues from his activities as AG. McConnell threatened to blacklist any consultant that worked for anyone other than Strange and worked to prevent other candidates from running. Other Congressmen were told that they would be taken out if they disobeyed and ran against Strange (Mo Brooks is being challenged in the GOP primary in 2018 as a result). Both Del Marsh, President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate, and Robert Aderholt, 4th District Congressman, would have likely entered the race without McConnell trying to be the king maker. Both men have high personal reputations and do not have an extremist edge. In the case of Aderholt, he is a close ally with the GOP D.C. leadership and would be a quality candidate from an appeal standpoint. Only Mo Brooks was up for the challenge. Brooks is a conservative fighter, 5th District Congressman and House Freedom Caucus member. Brooks doesn't have the eccentricities of Moore, while still being an ally to the Lee/Cruz/Paul wing of the party.
McConnell focused his money on destroying Brooks, as Brooks was the most formidable opponent and did not have the statewide name ID of Moore. Millions were spent lying and slandering Mo Brooks in order to get Strange into the runoff. Once this was accomplished, they turned the money on Moore. Strange was a terrible candidate that couldn't buy the nomination with a 10:1 spending ratio and super-high name ID. McConnell chose not only to back such a weak candidate, but keep others out as well. McConnell also vowed to destroy those who didn't follow his orders that the seat belonged to Luther Strange. He is also the primary force behind getting Trump to endorse and support Strange.
Brooks won his Congressional District in spite of the onslaught. I have no doubt that Brooks would have been Strange for 2nd place and made the runoff without McConnell's lying millions. He might have even finished first. Either way, Brooks would have then defeated Moore in the runoff and been the nominee. We would have an ally to Lee, Cruz and Paul, but because of Mitch McConnell, we have a Chuck Schumer ally in Doug Jones. It is past time for Mitch McConnell to go. This debacle is on him.
3. Richard Shelby
Richard Shelby made a decision not just to not support Moore, but to go around the Sunday shows, three days before the election, and make it well known. Shelby was featured in more Doug Jones ads than anyone with the possible exception of Jones himself. Shelby doesn't need his position on record for his own political career and certainly didn't need to make such a concerted effort to damage Moore as much as possible, short of a full Jones endorsement.
Those that know Shelby understand that he is a very slick political operative. He is closely aligned with the GOP Senate leadership and he doesn't make those moves without the support and encouragement of Mitch McConnell. Shelby simply didn't want Moore to win along with almost the entire D.C. GOP Caucus.
Ample room existed for Shelby to make his position known, but not make himself the focus of campaign advertisements. He chose the route he took on purpose for the maximum political effect. Do not mistake his politics for principle. If I thought for one second that Shelby was making a principled stand, I would applaud his courage. However, we all can be pretty confident that if the exact same allegations were leveled against Luther Strange, Shelby and most of the rest of the D.C. GOP would have stood behind him, or at the very least, not undermined his campaign. That means that his stand is not based on principle, it is based on politics and is just using principle as a smokescreen to cover up the real motivations. This is why Shelby is too blame.
Shelby doesn't have the courage to just oppose Moore, so he uses these allegations as cover for his political maneuvering. The presence of Shelby in the ads and his oft cited position for center-right opposition to Moore, did real and significant damage to Moore's chance to win. This was intentional and by design and motivated by politics. Thanks to Shelby's efforts, Alabama has elected its first Democrat Senator since Richard Shelby in 1992 (yes, the same guy).
I think Shelby was in danger of getting a strong challenger in 2022. I think this may just provide enough juice to make that happen. It is time for Shelby to retire and hopefully a strong challenger will emerge. He has won the last couple of primaries by about 65% with no names running against him. The anti-D.C. sentiment is ripe for a strong challenger. I think Shelby is in a similar position to what Cochran was in during his last primary. Many people will not forget these actions by Shelby.
4. Alabama Voters
One could argue that nothing is possible without the voters, so the fault starts and ends there. Technically, that is true. However, we need to address the real world where most voters are uninformed or lightly informed and are influenced by lying advertisements. These candidates and political operatives do not spend millions on ads if they weren't effective. The Alabama voters were duped into believing lies about Mo Brooks, which pushed many of them to Moore or to Strange. That created the runoff between the eccentric Moore and the crook Strange. Given Alabama's attitude of not wanting outsiders to tell us what to do, we voted for Moore as the nominee when faced between him and McConnell's puppet who tried everything he could to buy the Senate seat.
The Alabama voters bought these lies about Brooks. We allowed ourselves to be influenced by outsiders, both for and against Moore and Strange. Maybe it is always this way in swing states, but we are not used to this level of national interest or national players in our races. Most Alabama Republicans did not believe the allegations against Moore, but enough did that it made the difference.
At the end of the day, Moore was a bad candidate and always has been a bad candidate (from a political perspective). The Alabama voters are not responsible for nominating a man with these allegations, because they were completely unknown at the time of the runoff election. The stories that claim it was "common knowledge" and and "open secret" in the community are either misinformed or are lying to you. None of these allegations were known to anyone but a very, very small circle of people. At least one of whom had to put the Washington Post on the trail of not only the allegations, but of who to contact. I would very much like to know who that was and how they came across the information.
At the end of the day, Alabama Republicans voted Moore and Strange into a runoff. They chose Moore over Strange as the nominee. Then they voted for Doug Jones (or against Roy Moore) to be the next U.S. Senator.
5. GOTV Effort
The Democrat GOTV efforts were phenomenal. They were calling people, knocking door-to-door and driving voters to the polls. I have never seen anything close to the money and labor put into this effort in a race in Alabama, Republican or Democrat. They worked hard and it paid off. I expected a comfortable Moore win and I was very wrong. I did not expect that Jones could get the black vote enthusiastic and mobilized. I was wrong. Black turnout, according to the early projections, was very high. That will prove to be the difference between a narrow win and a loss for Doug Jones.
The Republican GOTV efforts were pretty pathetic and mostly non-existent. There were a few Phil Robertson and James Dobson robo calls, but I didn't see door knockers, people driving voters to the polls and any significant phone bank work. Some of this is due to the tepid or non-existent Republican party support. Another part is that the Democrats are just better and more enthusiastic right now. And why wouldn't they be. They were able to get a deep red Senate seat, that in one year, could prove to be the swing seat. Most Republicans, even those that believed Moore and supported him, would probably admit that the election of Moore would be beneficial to the Democrats by continuing the circus and damaging the party in 2018 and beyond. The third part is that Moore turns off a lot of voters that are center-right even absent of the allegations. He has a coarse style, overly black and white, and makes no real effort to bring in marginal supporters. Many Republicans just aren't going to invest time and money in supporting Roy Moore, even if they voted for him.
Where do we go from here to keep this from happening again?
We need party leadership to stay out of the primaries. Once again, the GOP D.C. leadership has taken out the best conservative candidate to clear the way for their guy and it blew up in their faces. The GOP ended up nominating someone that had major issues (the biggest one unknown at the time) and it threw the seat to the Democrats. Let the Alabama Republicans decide who they want to nominate and get your fingers off the scale. Your record is atrocious in getting good Senators.
Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are all Senators because the base rejected the leadership's choices. Many of the duds trotted out, Akin and Angle, to name a couple, were not the first choice of most conservatives. The leadership doesn't go after the candidate with the most downside, they go after the best conservative to try and win by default. Sometimes it works, like taking out Mo Brooks, and sometimes it doesn't. The leadership does not have the pulse of the American people or even the Republican electorate. Alabama Republicans rejected Luther Strange, in spite of the leadership and Trump team coming together. There is a message in that which should not be lost in Roy Moore's defeat.
Support good candidates. We need to move beyond just people that agree with us and select candidates that are good politicians. We need good communicators, hard campaigners and people that can raise money to compete. Good candidates win races and bad candidates lose races. The quality of the candidate matters a lot more than their positions, when it comes to winning and losing. We need substance and the right ideology too, but we can find people that exhibit both. When you have this, like the four I mentioned above, they are able not only to defeat leadership's choices, but to win the general election. These guys are some of the brightest stars in the future of the party. The future is not McConnell, Wicker, Cornyn, Graham and Corker. It is Rubio, Lee, Cruz, Cotton, Scott, Sasse and Paul. This change is good for conservatism, good for winning elections and good for this country. We have to start with a quality candidate, not just an ideology test, and understand the environment in which we are working in. Alabama is not Nevada and vise versa. Texas is not Florida.
We have to understand and appeal to the Trump voter. I did not vote for Trump. I made a determination that his lack of morality, absence of grounded ideology and general unpopularity would create more damage in the long run than the short term benefit provided by not having President Clinton. However, that ended the day after the election and I want him to succeed. He often frustrates and drags everyone around him down. He leaves many points on the field. He has also done some good things and should be given credit for it. The long term benefit/damage of Trump will take many years to fully evaluate. It depends on what happens in 2018, 2020, 2024 and 2028, and what happens as a result of those future elections.
I am an oddity in that I didn't support Trump in 2016, but supported Moore in 2017. I understand by being exposed to Moore's career for years, that he is neither a Trumper or a Bannonite. Moore embraced them because they were few of the only supporters he had left. What he never did, is change who he was or what he believed to get or keep their support. Due to these alliances and both camps penchant for railing against the "establishment", far too many people believe Moore is just and extension of Trump. It is an erroneous assumption, but is often made by the center-right media that just don't know any better and don't care when it is pointed out. The two legs good, four legs bad narrative is just easier to use than the nuance of truth.
Through my position, I got to see some of the attacks from the right toward Moore and understand why some of the Trump supporters did and do react the way they do. The condescension from the center-right media (I am not talking about the left, as that is a whole different topic) is damaging the cause. It is not helping bring new people in or opening eyes. I understand your points. I share many of them. I think your criticisms are often right and necessary. However, the condescension and self-righteousness with which it is delivered is hardening people against you. When they start rejecting you, they are going to turn to the nationalist and populists as an alternative. As a conservative, I do not want to see that. That is bad for our movement and by extension, bad for America.
Why are we willing to work with the Chamber of Commerce types, but consider the MAGA hat wearing Trump supports as beneath us? We probably have about the same amount of disagreement with both camps, ideologically, but we often treat them differently. The bottom line is that these people have different priorities than most traditional conservatives. They can't win without us and we can't win without them. We need to find some common ground before the left is back in full control.
The issues and motivations that attracted people to Trump are real and they matter. I thought then and still think now, that Trump was the wrong vehicle to correct those issues, when an alternative real outsider and "swamp drainer" like Ted Cruz was available. However, as Cruz supporters, we failed to make the sale. We need to figure out how to make conservatism appeal to these voters without compromising it. Bashing and dismissing them is the way to becoming politically irrelevant. The future our political system is at stake.