Editorial: Celebrate the win, but not too much

  • Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (center) looks at election returns with staff during an election-night watch party at the RSA activity center in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday. AP

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Leave it to the Donald Trump era of American politics to turn an Alabama Senate race into a hold-your-breath moment in New Hampshire.

Republican Roy Moore, a controversial former judge who stands accused of sexual abuse and molestation, was remarkably unfit for the seat he desired. In deeply conservative Alabama, it seemed that even that enormous red flag wouldn’t be enough to tilt the race in favor of Moore’s Democratic challenger, Doug Jones. But it was. Jones won by more than 20,000 votes, thanks in large part to 22,000 write-ins, most of which presumably came from Republicans who couldn’t stomach the idea of a man like Moore representing their home state. It is sobering and instructive to look at the numbers a different way, too: 650,000 people in Alabama – more than 48 percent of those who voted on Tuesday – actually did want Moore to represent them in Washington.

That means that it didn’t matter to 650,000 Alabamians that Moore was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl and pursuing relationships with other teenagers. It didn’t matter that he said homosexuality should be illegal. It didn’t matter that he repeatedly lied about the existence of Sharia law in Indiana and Illinois, and said Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress. It didn’t matter that his wife tried to brush off claims that her husband is racist and anti-Semitic by saying “one of our attorneys is a Jew.” It didn’t matter even when someone who served with Moore in Vietnam tried to vouch for him by lauding his self-restraint in a brothel populated by children.

But as much as Democrats and political pundits would like to turn the Alabama race into a referendum on the Trump presidency, we have a difficult time seeing it that way. Moore was a uniquely terrible candidate, and the work of Jones’s supporters – or Moore’s opponents – on the ground was impressive. Had Moore been even slightly less repulsive, he very well may have been watching today as movers loaded his belongings onto a truck bound for Washington.

We also offer another word of caution for Democrats in the mood for celebration. The absurdly obvious political calculation involved in the rapid abandonment of Sen. Al Franken to gain higher ground before the Alabama vote does not wash away decades of standing by Bill Clinton, John Conyers and others. That is not a defense of Franken – not even close. Let’s just say that if his state didn’t show up in such a deep shade of blue on political maps – meaning whoever replaces him is guaranteed to have the notation “D-Minn.” after their name – things would have played out differently for the old comedy writer. The fact is there’s not much daylight between left and right when it comes to political expediency, and political bravery remains in woefully short supply on both sides of the aisle. Maybe it has always been that way, but the muck sure feels deeper these days.

This has been a miserable year for America, and the gap between what most Americans want this country to be and what it actually is has expanded significantly since the Trump circus came to town. So let us say thank you to the 670,000 people in Alabama who refused to further erode the nation’s collective integrity by sending Judge Roy Moore to Washington.

In the age of Trump, we’ll bask in any glimmer of hope we can find.