The Democrats are feeling ruff, tuff and ready for the coming battle, and why shouldn’t they? They proved in Alabama that with a little help from the other side, a Democrat can still defeat a child molester.
All they need now, going into the midterm congressional elections, are more child molesters.
“The victory Tuesday by the Democrat Doug Jones to represent that heavily conservative state [of Alabama] in the Senate,” The Washington Post breathlessly assures its constituency, “was the latest example in a string of elections this year that Democratic leaders think represent a growing backlash against Donald Trump — and a potential wave for 2018.”
The Post’s man apparently got off the train in the wrong town, because most of that string of elections, in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and other places, were won by Republicans. When the wave expected by Democrats becomes real will be time enough to order limousines for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Only then will it be no more Uber and Lyft to get these worthies to a watering hole.
Campaign consultants and other hangers-on are already devising strategies to troll for clients and prospective candidates. “I worry that the Senate is in play,” Alex Conant of Firehouse Strategies, one of the authors of the Marco Rubio campaign last year, told Politico, the capital political daily, on the morning after Alabama. “I didn’t think that before yesterday.”
But after winning a string of special elections the Republicans proved once more the efficacy of Pruden’s Iron Rule: “Nothing recedes like success.” Events change circumstances, and bad events change circumstances absolutely. “If the political environment is still like this in eleven months,” Mr. Winant says, “Democrats might be able to defend their incumbents and pick up the seats they need out West.”
There’s no question that the landscape rumbled in Alabama, but whether the tectonic plates tumbled anywhere else is something else. It was Republicans, after all, who dispatched Roy Moore to the island of lost luggage, and but for the 22,000 voters who wrote in a respectable name on their ballots — all of whom we can put down as sad, angry or distraught Republicans since partisans for Doug Jones would have had no reason to throw their votes away — Roy Moore would be the senator-elect today. No one with a basic familiarity with Alabama and its politics imagines that the state is returning to the Democratic Party to which it gave its allegiance for most of two centuries. That party is no longer with us.
Mr. Jones must enjoy his considerable Senate perks while he can. Like it or not, his only constituency for the next two years will be the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Senate, and for all his promises at home to “reach out to the Republicans” the only senators he can plausibly reach out to are Chuck Schumer and the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Otherwise, he will be the orphan in the Senate just as he will be the orphan in Alabama. Harsh, perhaps sad. But true.
The Alabama result, beyond making Democrats feel better — “a win,” Donald Trump said on election night, “is a win” — has no particular meaning for the rest of the country. Alabama will have a clear, if not necessarily loud, liberal voice in the Senate for a short time, and this, as one bystander observes, will free Mr. Jones to be as liberal as Chuck Schumer and his party wants him to be. But that will cost him dear, because as Thomas Wolfe would tell him, “you can’t go home again.” Mr. Jones is still a Southerner, and that no doubt hurts.
New enthusiasm aside, the result in Alabama does not change the arithmetic of the year 2018. Democrats must defend 23 senators they now hold, several of whom are thought to be vulnerable, along with two “de-caf Democrats,” as The Washington Times calls them, who caucus with the party. Republicans will only have to defend eight seats, of whom only two are thought to be in peril of Democratic seizure.
Sen.-elect Jones has all the liberal bona fides. He’s a strong supporter of “reproductive rights,” as the morally squeamish call “abortion,” of Obamacare, and of the whole nine yards of the LGBTQ agenda. He spoke of none of that this time, following the advice of consultants to camouflage himself as the bland and flavorless man. But he won’t be able to do that again.
“There’s no reason why we can’t win congressional seats all over the place,” says Paul Maslin, a pollster for Doug Jones, who seems to think Alabama is typical of everywhere. But Mr. Maslin and like-minded Democrats forget that their party still stinks in many of those congressional districts “all over the place,” and the first snowflake of winter didn’t change that.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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