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  • Norman Young

Alabama Round-up: Who Did the Right Thing?

The Alabama Senate race was a thorny, unpleasant affair. Voters became jurors in an extrajudicial public trial, and weighed their individual judgments against other pressing moral issues. Party operatives struggled to predict the future in order to avoid coming down on the wrong side of public opinion. Politicians postured and positioned themselves in the best possible light.

So, who did the right thing? In this article, I analyze many of the important decisions made my the major actors during the recent Senate special election.

The Republican National Committee

After the accusations came out against Roy Moore, the RNC pulled its funding from candidate Roy Moore. When this did not sink the Moore campaign and it looked like Moore might win anyway, the RNC reconsidered its move, and reinstated funding for Moore.

Did they do the right thing?

To answer this, one must consider the two primary options open to the RNC. The first option was to keep the money flowing the whole time, ignoring the allegations and unconditionally supporting the person the voters selected. The second option was to take the money away and never return it, basing the decision on the RNC’s view of the credibility of Moore’s accusers. Either of those options would have had the benefit of consistency, allowing the the Party to defend itself as either strategic or moral. By waffling, however, the GOP looks neither strategic nor moral, and instead looks spineless.

On the flip side, however, both types of consistency had a downside. On one hand, being consistently pro-Moore could have pushed Moore to Pyrrhic victory, giving Democrats a easy target in the culture war for the next three years. On the other hand, being consistently anti-Moore would likely cause Alabama voters to blame the Party for Moore’s loss. Instead, the RNC’s changing position tracked the views of Alabama voters, who were initially troubled by the allegations, but soon began accepting their Hobson’s choice.

Under the circumstances, the RNC’s decision created the least problematic result: no Moore, and little blame for this fact going to the Party itself.

Senate Republicans

Most Americans were aware, due to heavy coverage in the mainstream media, that several prominent moderate Republicans vocally opposed candidate Roy Moore. In one case, this virtue-signalling took the form of writing a check to Moore’s opponent.

Did they do the right thing?

To properly answer this, one must first understand these Senators’ primary motivation. Above all, Senate Republicans wanted to avoid being put in the position of Alabama voters. Had Roy Moore been elected, the Senate would have been forced to consider expelling Moore. Doing so would set problematic precedent, since Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution does not technically authorize the Senate to enact retribution for decades-old allegations, but instead empowers them to restore order to the floor by removing disorderly Senators.

Joining with Democrats to oust Moore could have ended the careers of many moderate Republican Senators. For this reason, it is likely that very few Republicans would have actually voted to expel Moore (except those who are on their way out anyway). In this situation, Republican Senators either become hypocrites (voicing opposition while unwilling to vote for removal), or tacit Moore supporters (neither voicing opposition nor voting for removal). Moderate Republicans were desperate to find a way out of this bind.

Mild hypocrisy and political self-interest is one thing. But what about Senator Jeff Flake, who sent a $100 donation to Doug Jones? Isn’t that worse?

It is. By the very standards of Flake’s own morality, supporting Doug Jones was an act of egregious moral evil. It would be one thing to refrain from voting for an Integrationist because he was personally immoral; it would be quite another to endorse his Segregationist opponent. Jeff Flake is no longer a credible pro-Life Republican. Unless and until he repents of his mistake, pro-Life voters should not support him.

Alabama Voters

Alabama voters were in an unenviable position, to be sure. Alabama, being arguably the most socially conservative State in the Union, has a low tolerance for radically pro-abortion Democrats like Doug Jones. This especially true at a time when two Republicans who make up the Republican two-seat majority in the Senate include Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom have worked against defunding Planned Parenthood. Weighing Roy Moore’s allegations versus three years of a pro-Choice majority in the Senate was difficult.

Did they do the right thing?

To analyze this, we must weigh the known effects of Doug Jones’ victory against the probable effects of a hypothetical Roy Moore victory. What would have happened?

First, the outstanding allegations against Moore would create an enormous problem for Republicans, regardless of what actions they might have taken about them. Ousting Moore from the Senate would likely embolden Democrats to push for Trump’s impeachment in 2018. Refusing to oust Moore, on the other hand, means that Democrats would accuse Republicans of not taking sexual misconduct allegations seriously.

Second, allegations aside, Roy Moore’s political behavior creates an image problem for Republicans. Moore is a throwback to a kind of social conservatism that the mainstream media has spent decades learning how to eviscerate. He is prone to talk about God’s judgment upon America’s immorality, which makes almost everyone uncomfortable, and elicits charges of “theocracy!” from the Left.

In all likelihood these negative factors would have far outweighed the benefits of a single additional conservative vote in the Senate. Well done, Alabama. You simultaneously spared Senate Republicans and conservatives in general a lot of trouble.

Doug Jones

Doug Jones wasn’t much of an actor in this election cycle. His primary role was to serve as a foil for Roy Moore. Very little of what he said or did would have mattered, aside from two factors: 1) unquestionable sexual purity in his private life, 2) pro-Choice policy in public life.

Did he do the right thing?

In his personal life, the answer is a resounding “yes”. However, in his public life, Doug Jones missed an enormous opportunity. Jones was uniquely poised to unite Alabamians in a way never before possible. The primary hang-up that conservative voters had about Doug Jones was his radical stance on abortion. This was the only policy in Jones’ platform that rose to the level of a disqualifying moral issue.

If Doug Jones had come out as pro-Life, he would have achieved a landslide victory and overwhelming bipartisan support among all demographics of Alabamians. Even a moderate stance on the issue would have sufficed: a single statement explaining that pro-Life concerns regarding late-term abortions should be taken seriously; or an admission that Supreme Court Justices should be faithful to the Constitution. One tiny move in the direction of compromise could have had manifold returns in terms of social and political unity.

Roy Moore

What Roy Moore did or didn’t do will never be fully known, of course. He will never be tried or convicted by any court. And now that he was rejected by voters, he will never be investigated by a Senate committee, either.

Did he do the right thing?

If Moore is guilty, he is an abomination. If he is not guilty, as he claims, then staying in the race was a problematic, if understandable, decision. Moore no doubt thinks that his stance against the media was heroic. But, the opposite of “guilty” is not “heroic”; it’s just “innocent”. And, even if innocent, Moore’s presence on the Republican ballot was toxic.

The best thing Roy Moore could have done was step aside for another Republican candidate. However, this is an unrealistic expectation even for innocent politicians.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump opposed Roy Moore in the primary, endorsing instead his opponent Luther Strange. After Moore won the Alabama Republican primary anyway, Trump endorsed Moore for the general election. When the allegations came out against Roy Moore, Trump took the middle road, saying that Moore should step down only if he is guilty. Trump finally fully endorsed Roy Moore less than a week before the election.

Did he do the right thing?

During the Alabama primary, Trump seemed to understand that he had little gain from hitching himself to Moore-style conservatism. Luther Strange was the safer candidate, and more compatible with the Trump brand. But, after Moore won, Trump shifted gears, and threw his support behind the winning candidate. Some interpreted this as a loss for Donald Trump, including Trump himself. But it wasn’t.

When the allegations came out against Moore, Trump said he found the allegations “very troubling“. However, he was understandably reluctant to disqualify Moore on allegations alone. This led him to argue that Moore should step down if the allegations were true, but to stay the course if the allegations were false. This middle ground was rhetorically powerful, allowing him to oppose misconduct, while simultaneously remaining skeptical of election-season allegations. Another good move.

There was no reason for Trump to change course on Moore. The middle-ground he had staked out worked well for both a Moore win and a Moore loss. However, at a rally in Pensacola, Florida, Trump opined, “we cannot afford to have a liberal Democrat that is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer”. This was a full-throated endorsement. Trump likely believed his endorsement was necessary to push Moore to victory. But it didn’t. Twice in a row, Alabama voters ignored Trump’s advice.

By every conceivable measure, Trump’s endorsement of Moore in the weeks before the election was a mistake.

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