Before other urgent news distracts us all entirely from the political upheaval that occurred in Alabama last Tuesday, there’s some valuable intel from a Republican firm trying to glean lessons for its clients involved in the upcoming midterm elections:
Our friends at Optimus monitored the electorate in the Alabama Republican Senate Runoff with four separate opinion reads (polls) for two weeks leading into this election. Firehouse Strategies worked with 0ptimus to review data and learn lessons for next year’s midterms. During that time, voters’ awareness of President Trump’s endorsement of Senator Strange increased dramatically. However, in a trend that could have dramatic impacts on the midterm elections, Trump’s endorsement and campaigning for Strange did not move voters.
Key takeaway: We can concretely say that Donald Trump’s endorsement, and active campaigning for Sen. Strange, had absolutely no impact on the ballot.
By the time of the runoff, 80 percent of poll respondents knew about Trump’s support for Luther Strange. But it made no difference.
Over the time we were monitoring during the last two weeks of the campaign, as knowledge of Trump’s endorsement grew, Strange support did not. In fact, Moore was solidifying support through Trump’s visit, and Trump was unable to reverse this momentum. This suggests that while Trump may be good at translating his supporters’ sentiments, he is unable to persuade them.
Now there are three ways to read this result, given the dynamics in Alabama.
(1) Maybe Trump cannot transfer his support to other candidates — i.e., he has no coattails, at least in an election where he is not on the ballot.
(2) Maybe Strange’s problem was that while he had Trump’s support, Trump’s best-known national and in-state supporters were nearly all backing Roy Moore, creating a “Trump versus Trumpism” phenomenon that vitally undercut the president’s endorsement.
(3) Maybe Luther Strange was just too poor a candidate to win no matter who endorsed him.
I personally think this last factor has been underestimated, particularly by people unfamiliar with Alabama and the shadow cast by disgraced former governor Robert Bentley on this race. But the bottom line is that it’s hard to discern a clear lesson for 2018. Maybe Trump has no coattails, or maybe Trumpism’s appeal will be independent of the various gaffes and scandals Trump finds himself constantly embroiled in. Given the size of his ego, that alone could have an impact on his behavior going into the midterms.