In Alabama, Trump loses, but Trumpism wins

By Aristophanes

On Tuesday, Alabama Republicans nominated former state Chief Justice Roy Moore as the party’s candidate for a December special election to decide the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate earlier this year to become the United States attorney general.

In the runoff election, Moore defeated Sessions’ temporary replacement, sitting Sen. Luther Strange, who had the endorsement of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, as well as that of the president, himself. On the flip side, Moore boasted support from Stephen Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, Sarah Palin, a conservative firebrand and former governor of Alaska, as well as the Brexit-campaigner Nigel Farage, Fox News‘ Sean Hannity and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

Trump’s man may have lost, but don’t mistake this for a clear referendum on the president’s performance. The commander in chief is still incredibly popular in deep-red Alabama. Besides, Moore was the more Trump-like candidate, anyway.

During his first stint as head of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was ejected from office for installing a large granite sculpture of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, which he refused to remove when ordered to do so by his own colleagues. In 2016, he was again removed from the chief justice position for directing lower-level judges to continue enforcing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage licenses following the U.S. Supreme Court’s pivotal Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which declared such bans unconstitutional.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Moore has also argued Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress and that 9/11 was God’s retribution on a sinful country. He is an avowed birther conspiracist, believing President Barack Obama was ineligible to serve because he had not been born in the United States, a lie most infamously perpetuated by the current president before he ran for office. Moore has also expressed sympathy for authoritarian President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Not enough? Recently, Moore conducted an interview with Vox’s Jeff Stein where he stated, falsely, that Islamic religious law had exended to several American communities, and that the Constitution was founded to “foster Christianity,” effectively establishing a predominant state religion.

Alabama voters should strongly consider this history before casting a ballot in December.

Now, it is true local factors also played in Moore’s favor. Strange was appointed to the Senate by disgraced Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned following a nationally publicized sex scandal earlier this year. Incidentally, Strange, who was Alabama’s attorney general at the time, spent months overseeing an investigation into the governor’s alleged crimes. Could the senatorial appointment he received have been political bribery offered in exchange for lenient prosecution? Some believe so. In scandal-laden Alabama, such a charge, though unproven, could have cost votes.

However, despite Strange’s apparent weaknesses, and his official presidential endorsement, Moore’s victory remains emblematic of Trumpism’s hold on the GOP. Both Trump and Moore ran as outsider candidates seeking to shake up the system. Both are reviled by conservative elites. And, most notably, both swing to the far-right on cultural issues such as immigration and social justice, expressing a nationalist ideology anathema to respectable Republican moderates.

Further, Trump himself seems to regret his endorsement of Strange. At a rally before the election, he seemed to hedge on his support for the incumbent senator, noting he “might’ve made a mistake” wading into the election, and that he’d support either Republican candidate when it came to the general election. After the results came in, Trump released a tweet congratulating Moore, while at the same time scrubbing his account free of earlier posts endorsing Strange.

Moore will face Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney and surprisingly strong candidate, in the general election on December 12. In Republican-controlled Alabama, the former judge is likely to trounce his less-famous opponent.

However, Moore is certainly no shoo-in, especially considering his erratic past of controversial statements. He won his last statewide election by less than 4 points, in a year Mitt Romney carried Alabama by 22 points. One extreme remark has the potential to doom his entire run — it’s happened before, even in deep-red territory.

The general election is still months away; a lot can happen between now and December. ■

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