The abrupt realignment of once-dispersed Democratic voters behind a senescent 77-year-old who kicked off his Super Tuesday victory speech by mixing up his wife and his sister shouldn’t detract from the great mercy that was bestowed in Alabama. The Republican primary for U.S. Senate was pushed to a runoff election, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions failing to secure a majority of votes. His opponent will be Tommy Tuberville, a former NCAA football coach. Roy Moore, an accused child molester, finished in a distant fourth place.
Moore’s ignominious defeat was not guaranteed. He was the GOP nominee in 2017 when a special election was held to replace Sessions, who left the Senate that year to serve in the Trump administration. Sessions was eventually fired and is now trying to reclaim his old seat. Moore’s 2017 bid was thwarted by Doug Jones, a Democrat, who rode to a narrow victory on a wave of black voter enthusiasm and Republican antipathy toward their man. Jones is now the incumbent.
It was an embarrassment for the state GOP, which had controlled both of Alabama’s Senate seats since 1992. Their support for Moore further calcified the party’s moral bankruptcy — besides having been accused by four women of pursuing sexual relationships with them when they were between 14 and 17 years old and he was in his 30s, Moore has claimed that the 9/11 terror attacks were God’s punishment for Americans’ permissive attitude toward abortion and anal sex; that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress; and that the last “great” era in American history was when black people were enslaved.
Nevertheless, Moore topped at least one early poll of the 2020 race. (Sessions and Tuberville had yet to announce their candidacies at that point.) His presence was enough to stoke fears in Trumpland that he’d be the nominee again and cost Republicans what many see as a highly winnable election: “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win [in 2017],” the president tweeted in May. “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”
The consequences would be devastating for reasons besides the GOP being short a Senate vote, contrary to Trump’s characterization. The presence in Congress of a fringe theocrat and racist Islamophobe who probably once forced a child to touch his erect penis would hasten the body’s delegitimization under Republican control, not to mention introduce to it a new extreme in right-wing demagoguery. It would’ve also raised the stakes of Jones’s already dire prospects. The Democratic senator has been considered a soft target for Republicans practically since his election, and his vote to convict the president during his recent impeachment trial seems likely to harm his prospects further in a state where Trump enjoys high favorability.
Any celebration of Moore’s defeat should of course be tempered by what could emerge instead. The strongest possibility seems to be another six years of Sessions, a man whose record on voting rights and anti-discrimination law once prompted a letter of warning from Coretta Scott King, thwarting his elevation to the federal judiciary. Having him back in the Senate would return one of its most reliably conservative votes. It’s a grim prospect for anyone worried about the future of federal civil-rights enforcement. But in a state where nearly 70 percent of white voters backed an accused child molester in his Senate bid just three years ago, it may be the closest thing to a positive outcome that many could’ve hoped for. Plaudits are in order. Everything is fine.