Former prosecutor Doug Jones pulled off an upset of such titanic proportions in Alabama on Tuesday night that it’s worth taking a victory lap and enumerating all the little things that had to go right. It’s almost a mirror inverse of the bizarre and nauseating sequence of events required for Donald Trump to win the presidency while losing the popular vote by three million (except for that whole “violation of the entire spirit of democracy” bit).
In Judge Roy Moore, Jones drew a two-time statewide loser as an opponent, and a theocrat who’d twice been booted off the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore had beaten interim Sen. Luther Strange in the primary, then widened the intra-GOP divisions by campaigning with notoriously controversial white supremacist Steve Bannon — who’s now lost much of whatever influence he might have had by teaming up with a loser. Allegations surfaced that Moore had “courted” — ugh, that word — teenage girls for years. It was talk that had floated around locally for decades but gained purchase only now. He might even have been banned from a mall. Moore fought back, but his surrogates buried themselves on national TV with bizarre, incoherent defenses.
Text from a GOP operative: “Never have so many Republicans been so relieved by a Democrat’s victory.” #ALSEN
— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) December 13, 2017
He threatened to sue the Washington Post — kind of embarrassing for an attorney to say — and he fought with Jimmy Kimmel. He said same-sex marriage was worse than slavery and that getting rid of all the amendments after no. 10 would solve problems. His pastor allies called Republicans who abandoned him “sissies.” His wife was all like, “One of our attorneys is a Jew.”
Republicans refused to endorse him, including Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator and a very conservative legislator. Other Republicans with stature, such as Alabama native and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also inveighed against Moore. Meanwhile, Moore was able to frame the election not only his own liberal-for-Alabama policy positions, but on Moore’s unfitness for office. In that, he was the opposite of Jon Ossoff, the inexperienced campaigner who tried and failed to win a congressional seat in suburban Atlanta earlier this year by being as inoffensive as possible and endearing himself to exactly nobody.
Still, it was neck-and-neck, with polling all over the place. In Tuesday’s election, turnout was high in majority-Black regions of the state, and low in the whiter rural counties that gave Trump at 28-point victory over Hillary Clinton victory in 2016. What put Jones over the edge was his nearly 70-30 margin in Jefferson County, home of Birmingham, Alabama’s most populous city. Along with newly progressive bastion Jackson, Miss. — whose 34-year-old mayor pledged earlier this year to make the “most radical city on the planet” — Birmingham now looks like the nucleus of liberal resurgence in the Deep South. (As in so many other races, Black women all but saved the Republic by turning out in droves. We owe them thanks, but this unfair pattern really should not continue.)
Right from the start, let’s be abundantly clear: Doug Jones won because of an incredible turnout by black voters, particularly women. They showed up and delivered. Again.#AlabamaSenateElection
— Charlotte Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) December 13, 2017
Ultimately, Jones prevailed by 1.5 percent, just enough to escape a mandatory recount. Notably, there were almost 23,000 write-ins, and it’s safe to assume that most of those were disgusted Republicans unwilling to vote for either Jones or Moore. If 21,000 of them had pulled the lever for Moore, he would have prevailed.
Unfortunately, the GOP’s tax scam may well pass before then, but once Jones is seated on Jan. 3, 2018, the Senate will have but a 51-49 Republican majority. Assuming continued Democratic unity and with Vice President Mike Pence able to break any tie, that means the GOP can afford to lose but a single vote on any given issue. Even with a two-vote margin, the Senate has been notoriously difficult chamber to shepherd legislation through, so all signs point to redoubled difficulties for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s had a rocky relationship with the erratic president all year.
When you say shit about the south, remember that every single person who voted for Doug Jones today is also the south.
— Emily L. Hauser (@emilylhauser) December 13, 2017
But beyond the numbers themselves, there are now two feedback loops to contend with before the midterm elections, now less than 11 months away. The first is Democratic enthusiasm. The second is Republican fear. One feeds the other, and it might only be a matter of time before anxious GOP senators, long accustomed to putting party above country, begin to place self-preservation on that high shelf, too.
This entire calculus is predicated on the legislative branch of the federal government is operating under normal circumstances, which it is not. Moore lost because he was a serial creep, not because the Democratic comeback is so enormous as to put even the reddest seats in play. Jones would have lost to almost anyone else.
Fox News, why are you so damn quiet now? Knowing everything, lying on everybody, bullying everybody, claiming to be holy, righteous and loving America more than anybody else. Speak up now – admit you just got your butt kicked royally and MORE to come.
— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) December 13, 2017
In one sense, sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue: Sen. Al Franken will resign his seat — at some tbd future date, anyway — after multiple women came forth with evidence that he had behaved terribly. But in another sense, it absolutely is, as a Doug Jones loss would have indicated that the people of Alabama would rather elect a sexual predator than a Democrat. That symbolic loss would have been a major stumbling block for #MeToo. The movement also hit its high point to date on Tuesday, when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand took the step of demanding Trump resign over the allegations of sexual impropriety that have dogged him ever since he admitted it to Howard Stern.
President Trump should resign. But, of course, he won’t hold himself accountable. Therefore, Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 11, 2017
The president, it should be noted, essentially responded by calling Gillibrand a slut.
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
The danger here is in treating all of this in an instrumentalist way. We should not be glad for accusations because they hurt the president’s horrible agenda; we should be glad to claw our way toward a future in which women are respected and listened to. And no one should put money on some hypothetical hammer-blow bringing the Trump presidency down for good. But by denying the manifestly unfit Roy Moore a seat in the United States Senate, Alabama voters demonstrated that defending male misdeeds has zero electoral payoff, no matter what the stakes. And in a country this tightly divided, that can only be considered a win for women.