Roy Moore is Donald Trump, but more so. He is a buffoon, a racist, authoritarian demagogue, and a sexual predator. In all these qualities, save buffoonery, he exceeds Trump. His defeat in one of America’s reddest states signals deep trouble for the party that has given rise to both men.
Moore was indeed burdened with a unique political liability — a long-standing taste for underage girls — without which he would have been elected to the Senate. But Moore’s sexual history did not hurt him too much because, as Moore and Trump have demonstrated, no personal failing can hurt a Republican nominee too much. The conservative-media infrastructure creates an alternative-information universe, in which any failing can be denied or what-about-ed away. A large chunk of the party base stuck with Moore and believed him.
But the Republican base is not enough. Despite the qualms of many Republicans, Trump endorsed Moore wholeheartedly, and the official opposition of the party apparatus mostly melted away.
There’s a reason even Republicans who loathe or fear Moore wanted him to win: The loss of his Senate seat creates a vital hinge for a potential Democratic takeover of the chamber in the midterm elections. If Moore had prevailed, Democrats would have needed three seats. The first two are relatively easy: They simply need to knock off deeply unpopular Nevada senator Dean Heller, who has voted for the despised plans to repeal Obamacare and cut taxes for corporations, and replace retiring senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Democrats lead polls in both states. Doug Jones would give them a majority. Without Jones, they’d have needed to win in deep-red states such as Texas or Tennessee.
Of course, after the special elections in Virginia and Alabama, such outcomes now seem more likely as well. Almost every sign points to a Democratic wave election. Presidents almost always face midterm course corrections, but Trump’s dismal political standing, and the rapid time frame in which his descent has occurred, lacks any parallel. He lost the trust of the country before he even took office, and has continued to sink.
Exit polls in Alabama — a blunt instrument, to be sure — show Trump’s approval rating barely at parity. Most ominously of all for the GOP, Jones won voters under the age of 30 by 22 points. Even in Alabama, the future of America looks very different: It looks like a country that will recall the presidency of Donald Trump as a historical tragedy, or a joke.