Mike Littwin: Will somebody please tell Cory Gardner that Republicans lost in Alabama?
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Excuse me if I take the local angle on the huge national story, in which Democrat Doug Jones shocked the political world by getting himself elected in, of all places, Alabama.
But it’s as good a place to start as any. You see, it seemed as if Jones’ upset victory would be a huge break for Colorado’s own Cory Gardner, who was among the most vocal (although not all that vocal) opponents of Roy Moore from the establishment wing of the Republican Party. And in being so vocal (although, in truth, maybe not as vocal as you’d think), Gardner had put himself squarely in the expel-Roy-Moore-if-he-wins camp — which was not Donald Trump’s camp at all.
And yet, if Moore’s defeat was a break for Gardner, who must have been desperately plotting how to avoid clashing with Trump, you couldn’t tell it from Gardner’s bizarre response to Jones’ victory, which was to say that Jones should vote with — wait for it — Republicans. Because, you know, Alabama is a red state.
No, really. I don’t know if it’s desperation or just what comes of late-night tweeting, but here’s the quote: “I hope Senator-elect Doug Jones will do the right thing and truly represent AL by choosing to vote with the Senate Repub Majority.”
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OK, the logic doesn’t exactly hold unless Gardner believes that since Colorado leans bluish, he should vote with the Dems, say, 55 percent of the time. Or, for that matter, ever. If memory serves, Gardner just voted to kick millions off Obamacare to hand billions over to corporations. Wonder if that’s a Colorado position.
But it’s even weirder than that. Ronna (née Romney) McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chair, said something strangely similar. Gardner, as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, officially made it a GOP bizarro-world theme going forward.
The problem for Gardner, and Republicans, is that they didn’t really catch a break. The night was a disaster for Republicans, who couldn’t possibly lose in Alabama unless they had managed to nominate a homophobic, anti-Muslim, slavery-nostalgic, (alleged) child-molesting sexual predator.
It’s fair to say Republicans didn’t know what to do with Moore. Gardner said Moore was unfit to be a senator. Mitch McConnell said it was up to Alabamians if they wanted to elect a pervert. Donald Trump, who campaigned for Moore, insisted Moore’s vote was desperately needed in Washington. The RNC, deciding at Trump’s urging to back the alleged pervert, made a late push for Moore. Steve Bannon, meanwhile, said Sen. Moore would be at the forefront of the anti-McConnell Trumpian revolution.
And when it was all over, Moore refused to concede, saying God would point the way to a recount. So, even God couldn’t catch a break.
The analysts didn’t need divine help to explain what had happened. Alabama’s African-American voters, who saw in Moore a straight-up surrogate for Trump, came out in even greater numbers than they had for Barack Obama in 2012. They made up 29 percent of the electorate and gave Jones 96 percent of their vote. Millennials, as they have in all recent elections, abandoned Republicans en masse. Jones lost college-educated white women by seven points. In 2012, Obama lost them by 55.
These numbers look a lot like what happened in the recent gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. In other words, you can spot a trend here. And so can Gardner, who has taken on the job of trying to hold the Senate for Republicans in 2018. That was once seen as a slam dunk. Now it’s more like a slightly off-balance three-pointer. Even though the Senate map heavily favors Republicans, the math moves the 2018 election ever closer to a toss-up. In the House, Democrats are probably a very slight favorite to regain the majority.
Maybe the most telling exit-poll numbers from Tuesday night were that 91 percent of Republicans voted for Moore and that 93 percent of voters who disapprove of Trump voted for Jones.
The 91 percent show that the Trump base is still the Trump base, but that for Moore to have lost, many Republicans had to have chosen to stay home. The 93 percent number shows, as Ron Brownstein pointed out in The Atlantic, how critical the anti-Trump vote will be for Republicans in 2018. If Trump’s approval numbers remain in the 30s or low 40s, it’s going to be a difficult midterm election. Democrats won 82 percent of the anti-Trumpists in New Jersey and 87 percent in Virginia.
Moore was, of course, a special case. Even with Bannon’s determined help, Republicans won’t nominate anyone like him in the near future. But Alabama is a special case, too. Democrats don’t win in Alabama. Ever.
To understand the fix Republicans find themselves in, you just had to take in the big Trump-generated news of the day on Election Day. The last thing Republicans needed was to remind everyone of Moore’s, uh, mall-stalking issue. And yet, in response to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s comments that Trump should resign in light of the many women who had accused him of sexual harassment or worse, Trump tweeted that Gillibrand “would do anything” for campaign contributions and had once come “begging” to him.
The reaction was just what you’d expect. In other words, as the normally mild-mannered USA Today editorial board would write in a notably bipartisan slam: “A president who’d all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama’s presidential library or to shine George W. Bush’s shoes.”
The outrage was fairly universal, if you don’t count Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Although I don’t recall Gardner, McConnell, Bannon or even Moore saying a word about it.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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