Here’s the thing about selling your soul: The devil had better deliver. It’s one thing to be damned; it’s another to be a damned loser.
This is the difficult lesson that the Republican National Committee and much of the GOP are learning right now, in the wake of Roy Moore’s loss on Tuesday. While there were plenty of Republicans who refused to back Moore, there were also plenty who did, or chose to “let the voters decide.”
As someone who has studied politics as long as I have knows, the GOP holds no monopoly on betraying principles. But this was a pretty high profile investment in it. They did so presumably not because they are down with pedophilia, but because their discomfort with Moore – or for that matter, with Trump – did not outweigh their discomfort with losing power. For the past 18 months or so, and perhaps most conspicuously in the past couple of weeks, most Republicans seem to have calculated that their best path to maintaining power was to jump in bed with Steve Bannon and the so-called Trump base (maybe with the lights off, but still). And now here they are.
Sure, only one seat changed hands. But that one seat makes a big difference when you are clinging to such a precarious Senate majority. One place where that difference is being felt immediately is on the tax bill. Any hope that the GOP would carefully work out the bill’s considerable kinks in a conference committee is now lost. Republicans know they have to get this thing done now, before Jones is seated in January. The Senate bill only passed with 51 votes. Come 2018, all it would take is for John McCain to rediscover his thumb or for Rand Paul to get beaten up again (which is never out of the question), and the signature achievement of this GOP team would wind up falling short of final passage. And as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, if Republicans can’t cut taxes when they enjoy unified power, why do they get up in the morning?
Conservatives should finish their business on the tax bill now – because getting anything else on their wish list just became considerably more daunting. Entitlement reform? Please. Swing vote Republican lawmakers like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski just became more powerful, and they aren’t going to put up with significant cuts to Medicare, Medicaid or SNAP.
Just as the moderates in the party are seeing their stock rise, the insurgents are surely seeing theirs fall. In case there was any doubt following the special elections in Virginia and New Jersey last month, this Alabama outcome pretty well explodes the myth that candidates should cultivate Steve Bannon’s blessing. Meghan McCain, John McCain’s daughter and a Republican, pithily summed up the new conventional wisdom, tweeing “Suck it, Bannon.”
As for 2018, the Democrats still have to draw an inside straight to gain control of the Senate. They are defending 26 seats, 11 of which are in states that Trump either won or lost narrowly. By comparison, the Republicans are only defending eight seats, mostly in deep red states. The Democrats only have two, or perhaps three, realistic pickup opportunities. But they only need two, and Tuesday’s result means they now have a plausible chance at getting them. The party that is out of power typically gains seats in midterm elections anyway, even when the president is not historically unpopular. And recent polling shows that Democrats enjoy a double-digit lead when voters are asked which party they would prefer to control the Senate. If such sentiment holds for another 11 months, it may be enough to counterbalance a map that, in any other year, might be prohibitive.
And the sledding might grow even tougher for Republicans. Something has clearly changed since Trump was elected. The Resistance is gaining strength, as we could see even before Tuesday in the historic numbers of women who are running for office, and in the #MeToo locomotive. Alabama just gave the movement that much more momentum.
This is not just feminist protesters in coastal cities wearing vaginas on their heads. It isn’t just self-righteous entertainers making windy acceptance speeches. And it isn’t just college students asking for trigger warnings and safe spaces. It’s also devout mothers –- in red states, no less –- saying enough is enough.
It also helps Democrats that by ousting Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers, and by (mostly) cheering as the litany of offenders in Hollywood and the press have gone down, they can authentically claim the moral high ground on what may have become the most salient social issue of our time.
And in a reversal from 2016, the politics of race seem to be working in the Democrats’ favor these days as well. Turnout among African-Americans has spiked, while falling among whites in most of the special elections that have happened this year.
Looking forward to 2020, it’s too bad for Democrats that there isn’t a charismatic candidate who is ready-made to capitalize on this environment. Oh wait, there is.