Let’s put this in perspective. Not spin it, but put it in proper perspective. Because most journalists and pundits in Washington, even many conservatives and Republicans, are dancing on what they think is Trump’s political grave. And they are gravely mistaken. Like they were many times before.
Roy Moore’s decisive victory in the Republican primary several weeks ago over a sitting U.S. senator reflected the intensity of Republican antipathy toward the GOP establishment. Just because Moore lost the general election does not mean the antipathy or the desire for change that originally put Trump in the White House has diminished in any way. It is a fundamental thing, one that elected Trump and that could elect many Republicans in 2018.
Washington political types and the people you are forced to listen to on TV look at politics as a sports event, concentrating on who’s up and who’s down and assuming that a trend is an inevitability, while failing to understand deeper dynamics that cause events. So let’s remember a few things.
In the same way Trump was elected despite obvious flaws and red flags for the conservative and deeply religious voters who backed him, Moore nearly won in Alabama despite major hurdles.
Moore had in the past said some controversial things that were probably already offputting to moderate and some other Republicans who might have stayed home even before the sexual misconduct allegations came down. Then, of course, he was accused dating teens in his 30s, and worse.
I think it is hard for most people who have heard these charges not to believe at least that he had a predilection for teens while in his 30s. The charges are just too numerous, and most of the women do not seem to have been cooked up in some George Soros-funded laboratory for smearing Republicans. The charges must have at least made Republicans across the political spectrum uncomfortable with Moore, with responses ranging from voting for his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, to sitting home, to putting aside their concerns and backing Moore. That’s not a great get-out-the-vote recipe.
Meantime, Moore was vastly outspent, perhaps by $7 million in a state with only about five million people. The national party only late and grudgingly backed Moore, and the Republican Senate campaign committee never got behind him. Even Alabama’s other U.S. senator, Republican Richard Shelby, said he couldn’t vote for Moore.
And yet Moore nearly won, losing by only 20,000 votes against Jones, a credible Democratic candidate, not some horrendous ethical mess like Hillary Clinton.
Admittedly, Alabama is a deeply Republican state. But Moore was deeply disadvantaged. His loss says nothing about the future of Trumpism. It says nothing about the state of Republican populism that is seeking to upend the establishment.
And it says nothing about Steve Bannon’s talent for picking candidates. Bannon, when he first came out for Moore during the primary, could not have known about the sexual misconduct allegations. Such charges seem to attach themselves just as easily to “normal” public personas as they do to colorful characters like Roy Moore. That they came up with Moore does not reflect on Bannon.
Republican congressional leaders, driven by what they read in the press and hear on the TV, will have the wrong reaction to this. They will use Moore’s loss to reaffirm themselves in the illusion that people don’t want fundamental change in Washington. But as long as Bannon’s money doesn’t dry up, he will still be able to run anti-establishment candidates in GOP Senate primaries. And they will win those primaries, and they will mostly win general elections.
Because these are the candidates that will bring out the GOP base. They are the ones who can counter the Democratic base, which is highly energized. If Republican Washington swamp runs establishment candidates, then the GOP is going to get swamped.
“Normal,” establishment candidates are bad political news. Bannon isn’t just trying to “blow things up,” he is doing what he thinks is politically advantageous, avoiding candidates who will fail to excite the GOP base. Just ask Ed Gillespie, professional Washington lobbyist — and pitifully failed 2017 Republican candidate for governor of Virginia.
Keith Koffler is the author of the Book Bannon: Always the Rebel.