The Aftermath of the Roy Moore Dilemma


Michael Maynard, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, December 11, 2017, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama special Senate election, replacing the now attorney general Jeff Sessions. The outcome marked the end of prolonged speculation and allegations of Moore having sexual relations with underage girls, as well as swung the Senate a seat in favor of the Democrats. There are three main subjects that were affected by the surprising result: President Trump, both political parties, and the presence of sexual misconduct in politics.

Moore had been the heavy favorite to win the election. Despite allegations (key word because all evidence is based on accusations of several women, nothing proven against him yet), having the R next to his name almost ensures a victory, as Alabama is one of the reddest states in the country, so with any other Republican candidate, this race isn’t close.

However, the biggest mistake Republicans made was making Moore the party’s nominee. The biggest factor to this was Breitbart’s Steve Bannon. Bannon has always been a shady journalist, but it has been exposed more recently in conflicts with Trump, where he accused Trump of being mentally unfit for office with no real evidence. He was fired from Breitbart, and has been nicknamed “Sloppy Steve” by the man in charge. However, this all happened after the Alabama special election. Prior to his demise, he had championed himself as the man behind “Trumpism,” more than the man himself.   Bannon helped push the narrative that Republicans trump Democrats all the time no questions asked.

The reality was that there were a lot of questions asked. Sexual misconduct scandals have a history of affecting campaigns. Having such allegations isn’t a death sentence, as Bill Clinton and Grover Cleveland have gone on to win Presidential Elections with scandalous backgrounds. However, Gary Hart had his Presidential dreams curtailed because of a sex scandal. Hart would have likely been the Democratic nominee in the 1988 Presidential Election- had his extramarital affairs not been exposed. A two-term Colorado Senator, Hart gained momentum in the 1988 Democratic primaries. His presidential run went off the rails when a photograph with a 29 year old model, Donna Rice, emerged, with Hart on a yacht with Rice while wearing a shirt reading “Monkey Business Crew.”

While Bannon pushed his narrative to much of the conservative base, many more prominent grassroot conservative voices like Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney spoke against Moore in the primaries to get another Republican on the main ticket, as they realized how politically negative running Moore would be. The conscientious choice instead of Moore was Luther Strange. Strange has been the Attorney General in Alabama, and was filling the seat vacated by Sessions prior to the special election. He would have been a less controversial candidate, and would been more popular in the general election.

This is where Trump comes in. As President, he is the symbolic Republican party leader. This means he may have to make decisions he doesn’t personally agree with, but help the party. This is a flaw to the two-party system both parties have faced throughout U.S. history.

Trump initially endorsed Strange, but when Moore was chosen, he had two options. He could support Moore, as the presidential support is the highest form of support, and increase the chance of keeping the seat, but get killed in the press (which realistically was going to happen regardless). His other option was to take a neutral stance and not give Moore strong support, but risk losing the seat.

Moore (left) beat out Strange (right) for the Republican nominee, thanks in large part to the efforts of Bannon (center).

He ultimately chose the former. It came down to how important that seat was to him. The balance was 52-48 Republican (now 51-49 after the Jones election). Most legislation requires a simple majority, so if Democrats were to take control of the Senate after the 2018 midterms,there would be increased gridlock in getting legislation passed.

Democrats in Congress also seem to have a master plan to impeach Trump and remove him from office, even though he has no impeachable offenses to date.  The U.S. impeachment process starts in the House, where a simple majority votes for impeachment. This sends to the Senate for the trial, where ⅔ votes (67) in favor results in the removal office. It again stresses the importance of the midterms, where if the Democrats get a majority, anything can happen. And with midterms looming, it hurts extra to lose a Senate seat in a special election that Republicans were projected to get.

It ended up being a lose-lose situation, where Trump supported Moore and got covered as enabling sexual predators, and Moore lost.

Meanwhile, it’s not all good for the Democrats. Many view it as a positive just to get one seat closer to impeaching Trump. However, it will be intriguing to follow Jones’ popularity during his term, as many people voted for him just because he wasn’t Roy Moore.

This is where Democrats may regret not running a more moderate candidate. Mo Brooks comes to mind, as he is more moderate and pro-life, and he would have had won in a landslide. Democrats were lucky that turnout for Moore was low, as running Jones was a risky play.

There’s also the Al Franken controversy. Like Moore, Franken had been accused of sexual misconduct. This is where the mass polarization in politics becomes a problem. There are Democrats who want Franken but not Moore (and Trump, because why not), and vice versa. That can’t happen because of the moral inconsistency.  Either they both have to be in or out, otherwise it becomes a weakness for the party with the distraction in office.

Recognizing this, Democrats forced Franken to resign as a sacrifice to gain the moral high ground on the issue. They could claim they rid themselves of the leach but Moore (and Trump) were still in office. Franken even brought up this point in his resignation speech. And even though this is a sacrifice, it isn’t much of one. When a Senator leaves office during their term, it is the duty of their state’s governor to assign a replacement. In Franken’s state of Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton decided to appoint Tina Smith as his replacement (both Democrats). There is no change in the balance in the Senate, so they don’t lose anything from ousting Franken.

This is actually good politics from the Democrats. Take out one of the more popular senators that messed up, and denounce the other side for not taking action to remove their people with similar issues. However, it looks really bad because of how the election turned out.

First of all, Democrats weren’t actually expecting Moore to lose. They believed- probably because of Bannon- that all Republicans were for Moore. That can explain why they ran a solid liberal candidate in Jones, as they wanted to lose to make a point. They tried to make Jones a sacrifice like Franken.

They also might have guilted voters away from Moore. The Alabamians didn’t value the negative impact of the allegations, but actually convinced enough of them to dissuade votes from Moore.

Jones (right) won the Alabama Senatorial seat with help from Moore’s allegations, but Franken’s (left) own allegations forced his resignation.

Democrats didn’t want this to happen. They were willing to take a short term loss in an ultra-red area to give them a cultural advantage over the sexual assault issue to help them in the 2018 midterms, when chances of retaking the Senate would be greater.

Instead, they’re in the awkward position of forcing Franken to go through with his resignation, even though their plan to achieve the moral high ground failed. Should they rescind Franken’s resignation, what they intended to do the Republicans would backfire on them.

It’s this simple: the Democrats should have waited until after the special election to force out Franken. Their overconfidence in forecasting election results impacted their decisions to take unnecessary actions. When Moore lost, they could force Franken out as response to recognize Republicans opposing sexual misconduct and create unity on an issue, impossible as that sounds.

In the end, what does this all mean? As the case with most things in Washington, essentially nothing. It was many arguments and media hype that didn’t amount to anything, and unless you live in Alabama, it won’t impact you significantly. At least we now have two less distractions in Congress.