Alabama Mad: Before Tuesday’s Alabama Republican senatorial primary, Chamber of Commerce strategist Scott Reed said his organization had gone “all in” for incumbent Luther Strange in order to “remind [populist ex-Trump aide Stephen] Bannon who’s in charge,”
Mission Accomplished! The Chamber’s candidate lost in a 55-45 rout to Bannon’s candidate, Roy Moore, a former judge once regarded as too much of a religious zealot to make it all the way to the U.S. Senate.
Here are 5 reasons why this outcome is significant, not counting the obvious one (GOP primary voters were PO’d at what Reed boasted was the “governing wing of the party”– i.e. the GOP Establishment).
1. Moore won without Trump: Only a few days ago it was fashionable to declare “there is no such thing as Trumpism”–there was only Trump, and his changing positions. Trump’s voters would simply follow whichever way their leader led — even, most controversially, into a deal with Democrats to give formal amnesty to the illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who had been protected by an Obama executive action (DACA). But, in Alabama, Trump said ‘Follow Big Luther’ and his base said, ‘No thanks. We’ve found a Trumpier candidate.’ Turns out there is such a thing as Trumpism without Trump:
2. Moore won without Drudge: This one’s more surprising. Drudge’s website has been a rock of support for both Trump and Trump’s underlying cause of immigration-skepticism. Given the pro-immigration bias of the mainstream press, he’s seemed indispensable. Populists winning an election without him was like…
Moby Grape without Bob Mosley [LeBron-ed] the Cleveland Cavaliers winning without LeBron James! But that’s what happpened. In recent months, Drudge has seemed more in tune with Jared & Ivanka than Bannon. The site didn’t feature many articles on the Alabama race as it headed down the stretch–but a few hours before the polls opened there was a beautiful picture of Ivanka, who was on her way to Detroit. In the long run, Drudge is probably still indispensable. But the idea that the king of alt media could be sidelined and scrappy Breitbart would fill the void must terrify the GOP “governing wing.”
3. Bannon won: They mocked when Bannon left the White House and pledged a vague campaign to somehow support Trump while still attacking him as he strayed from his former populist “America First” ideas on immigration, trade, and war. Here’s A.B. Stoddard of RealClearPolitics:
Bannon’s new self-described role as “wingman” growling from outside instead of inside the White House — where as chief strategist he fought openly against the “globalist” forces he believed included Trump’s family members — isn’t going very well.
How much awful advice from his son-in-law is the President going to take?
5. Immigration Amnesty lost big: Two weeks before the Alabama election, some polls apparently showed a very tight race. About this time, Trump held his infamous dinner with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi at which he seemed to cut a Dem-friendly deal to give amnesty to the “Dreamers” — in exchange for a grab-bag of feel-good border security measures that did not include his promised Wall. Candidate Moore denounced the deal. Strange wouldn’t commit. Moore soon opened up a lead that doesn’t seem to have been cut even by Trump’s appearance in Huntsville on Strange’s behalf. I’m not saying there weren’t other big factors in the race, like anger at the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare. I’m saying the seemingly impending Trump-endorsed Dreamer cave-in was another big factor. The difference between the two factors is that the mainstream press, which instinctively avoids crediting restrictionist concerns, will tell you about the former but not the latter.
And the Alabama revolt will make a difference in the eventual legislative outcome. Remember when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat by an anti-amnesty outsider in 2014 sealed the doom of the massive, heavily hyped “Gang of 8” amnesty? The bill had already passed the Senate, but when Cantor went down House Republicans who valued their job security didn’t want to go anywhere near it.
Luther Strange is Cantor II. Which House Republicans want to try out for the role of Cantor III by backing the Pelosi/Trump amnesty? Not many, I suspect. The pundits may tell them the Alabama race was all about vague anti-Establishment anger, or the failure to repeal Obamacare, or about “local dynamics.” Elected Republican legislators, with their careers on the line, know better.