WASHINGTON – It took a near-miraculous confluence of factors for a pro-choice Democrat to win the state of Alabama — but it happened. The ruby-red Republican state delivered a stunning result to elect Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate.
Last time Democrats didn’t even mount a campaign. A write-in Democratic candidate lost to Jeff Sessions by a nearly inconceivable margin of almost 95 per cent, and this time the party won by 1.5 per cent.
Here are six ways this reshapes American politics.
1— Passing bills just got harder for the GOP. Republicans will hold just a one-vote majority in the Senate. That means their legislation can be more easily defeated, and their judicial appointments rejected. All it takes is for two Republicans to defect, instead of the current three. This gives Republican moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski quasi-veto power on everything. Aware of this, the parties scrambled Wednesday over the timing of a major vote on taxes: Republicans rushed to pass a bill this year, ignoring a demand from Democrats that they pause for a few weeks so the newly elected senator can be sworn in.
2— Republican infighting. The GOP has been a tinderbox of internal tension, and this is one more spark. Recriminations began before votes were even counted. The party establishment swiftly blamed the nationalist, alt-right wing for elevating controversial candidates like Roy Moore. It was party insurgents who propelled the gay-bashing, anti-Muslim, accused one-time molester of adolescents to the nomination. A close confidant of congressional leader Mitch McConnell pointed this out, while counting was still underway Tuesday. Josh Holmes tweeted: ”I’d just like to thank Steve Bannon for showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union.” GOP lawmaker Peter King put it more crudely, on CNN: “(Bannon) guy does not belong on the national stage. He looks like some disheveled drunk that wondered on to the political stage.” The party’s other wing retorted with its own grievances. The Bannon types castigated party elites for failing to support Moore, denying him donations and endorsements. Bannon’s Breitbart website offered an early taste of that counter-attack with the headline: ”Republican Saboteurs Flip Seat To Dems.”
3— Democrats energized. After a dominant performance last month in races across the country, Democrats now have ample reason to believe they can reclaim the House of Representatives in next year’s midterms. Turnout has been unexpectedly high in Democrat areas; among youth; and among African-American voters. There’s been a surge in fundraising and candidate-recruitment. The party can now point to its long shot win in Alabama, as it tries recruiting star candidates for anticipated close races.
4— Start the Senate-watch. Winning either of the two congressional chambers next year would give Democrats big power — to stall bills, launch investigations and generally thwart Trump’s presidency. But the ultimate prize isn’t the House; it’s the Senate. So far, that’s seemed positively unattainable. By a fluke of the calendar, the Senate seats up for election next year are overwhelmingly Democratic, giving them few opportunities for pickups. The odds have just narrowed. To end the GOP majority, Democrats now need just two Republican seats — they will be gunning hard in Nevada, Arizona and elsewhere, but must still defending their own two-dozen seats up for re-election. Why does the Senate matter so much? It doesn’t just adopt laws, like the House. It’s also the chamber that approves presidential nominations — to the cabinet, federal agencies, and the Supreme Court. And that court has three judges aged over 75 years old, with their eventual replacements poised to decide hot-button issues like abortion.
5— Spotlight on Donald Trump. His unpopularity is starting to worry his party. Fearing a tidal wave in next year’s midterms, some Republicans are grumbling that the president must adjust his behaviour. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, on CNN, called the results a wake-up call for Trump: ”It is a very clear warning shot.” He urged the president to tone down the constant conflict and chaos, as it’s turning off voters: ”It’s just debilitating. It wears people out. … (People are) worn out by the daily controversy coming from the president’s Twitter feed.” A big Trump fan agreed the result could up the pressure on him, for other reasons. Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham speculated Democrats will now recycle sexual-misconduct allegations against Trump, compare them to Moore’s, point to voters’ rejection of Moore and argue the president should be investigated. That’s already begun. Several Democrats have been calling for investigations, or even for Trump’s resignation.
6— Roy Moore goes away. This is the silver lining for many Republicans. A number commented after Tuesday’s results that his presence in the Senate would have been a political millstone. They said Democrats would have made Moore a national campaign issue — someone who’s called for homosexuals to be jailed; who said Muslims should be barred from Congress; and who was reportedly once banned from a mall for his alleged habit of creeping on adolescent girls. They worried Democrats would turn Moore into the poster-boy for the Republican party and feared how that might play in states far less hospitable to them than Alabama.