Trump loses his big bet on Alabama U.S.
Send a link to a friend
[December 13, 2017]
By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In backing Roy Moore
in Alabama's U.S. Senate race even though the candidate faced
allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, President Donald
Trump made a risky bet - and lost big.
The victory by Democrat Doug Jones over the Republican Moore in the
Alabama special election on Tuesday was a catastrophe for Trump,
portending a Democratic wave next year that could cost Republicans
control of one or both houses of Congress.
The stakes in Alabama were that high. Democrats already were confident
they had a strong chance to retake the U.S. House of Representatives in
next year’s congressional elections. Jones' narrow victory increases
their once-long odds of retaking control of the Senate as well.
If Democrats were to recapture both chambers, they would serve as a
check on Trump’s agenda and might even initiate impeachment proceedings
"That Republicans lost in one of the most Republican states in the
nation is a wake-up call no matter how flawed their candidate was," said
Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Democrat
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Democrats never expected to have a chance in Alabama, where they had not
won a U.S. Senate race in 25 years. But the combination of Trump’s
unpopularity, the sexual misconduct allegations that erupted against
Moore in November, and Trump's enthusiastic support of him anyway gave
them the opportunity, experts said.
“Trump was the one who got Jones within firing range, and Moore allowed
Jones to win,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University
Even as Democrats lost several special congressional elections this
year, they consistently showed higher levels of turnout and engagement,
which is attributable to Trump, Kondik said.
The Alabama race showed there were limits both to Trump’s endorsement
power and his judgment.
Even as senior Republicans urged Trump to abandon Moore, the president
decided instead in the campaign's final days to throw the full weight of
his office behind him. In the end, that was not enough, and early
turnout reports suggested that many Republicans stayed home.
Moreover, despite the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, the
race near the end increasingly seemed to become about the president.
Moore’s camp this week said the contest was specifically a referendum on
Trump and his presidency.
“It is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama,” Dean Young, a strategist for
Moore, told ABC News.
Trump congratulated Jones on Twitter "on a hard fought victory" and
added: "Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short
period of time."
The loss was also a body blow to Steve Bannon, Trump’s former top
strategist, who backed Moore in the primary against the Republican
incumbent, Luther Strange, because he viewed Moore as a more reliable
Bannon also frequently characterized the race as less about Alabama and
more about furthering Trump’s economic nationalist agenda.
Bannon is looking to wage an insurgency against the Republican
establishment in the 2018 congressional elections, particularly Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who condemned Moore after several women
accused him of unwanted sexual contact when they were in their teens and
he was in his 30s.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump gestures as he arrives for a rally in
Pensacola, Florida, U.S., December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Moore, 70, has denied the allegations, and Reuters has not
independently verified them.
Beyond Moore, Bannon is supporting anti-establishment candidates
such as Kelli Ward in Arizona, Danny Tarkanian in Nevada and Kevin
Nicholson in Wisconsin, all of whom oppose McConnell staying on as
Bannon also may ultimately support challenges against sitting
Republicans in Mississippi and Wyoming.
But Moore’s loss seems certain to dampen that effort, and
Republicans who fear losing control of Congress may be even less
likely to back outsider candidates who may turn off mainstream
It is now an open question whether Trump will inject himself into
more Republican primaries, given his setback in Alabama.
“When you nominate candidates who are unqualified and an
embarrassment to the party, you run the risk of ruining your entire
brand,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican consultant and close ally of
Bannon’s supporters say rank-and-file Republican voters are more
likely to blame McConnell, not Bannon, for the loss in Alabama,
arguing that McConnell and his well-resourced Senate Leadership Fund
did nothing to help Moore.
McConnell “actively opposed the Republican candidate in Alabama and
threatened our Senate majority by helping to put a liberal Democrat
in that seat,” said Andy Surabian, a former Bannon protégé who now
advises a pro-Trump advocacy group, Great America Alliance.
Even with the Alabama win, Democrats face a significant challenge
next year if they are to take control of the Senate. They must
defend 10 incumbents in states that were won by Trump and they must
gain two seats currently held by Republicans. Their best
opportunities to secure those seats lie in Arizona and Nevada, and
Democrats need 24 seats to retake the House, but that is viewed as a
more realistic goal because of the number of congressional districts
where they are competitive, particularly in suburban areas.
Brian Walsh, president of another pro-Trump group, America First
Policies, said Trump could not be blamed for Moore’s loss, arguing
that the president's late endorsement almost won the race for Moore,
a deeply flawed candidate.
“He was trying to push a boulder up a hill,” Walsh said.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Caren Bohan and Peter
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.