I am somewhat behind in my election reporting. It has been, as you might know, a busy year politically. Rather than try to untangle everything that has happened since last my political reporting was interrupted by my arrival in Chile, I will instead focus on one of the moments that encapsulates the maelstrom that has been 2017.
It all started when Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the junior Senator from Alabama, was appointed Attorney General of the United States. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (who would soon resign his position over charges of abuse of office relating to an extramarital affair) appointed the Attorney General of Alabama, Luther Strange, to the seat until the General Election in 2018. A former oil and gas industry lobbyist, Luther Strange was considered a moderate, at least by the standards of an oil and gas lobbyist in Alabama. When Bentley was replaced with Kay Ivey as governor, she rescheduled the special election to December of 2017. Although Strange was seen as the consensus choice of most of the Alabama Republican Party, there had been such an outcry since 2016 against so-called "Coastal Elites" that even an oil and gas industry lobbyist who had sued the federal government over gay marriage was seen as being about one step from being a gender studies professor in Berkeley. Even the endorsement of the one man able to understand the rural, homespun nature of Alabamans (a reality show star from Manhattan) didn't assuage the fears of the good people of Alabama. And so entered Roy Moore, a man whose antics have been covered here over a decade ago. (Apologies for my amateurish writeup in that node). Since that time, Roy Moore had been up to a series of escapades, being removed from the bench twice for contempt of office. He was removed, reelected to the Supreme Court, and elected again. This gave him the street cred he needed to compete in Alabama, and also he had a horse. He narrowly edged Strange in the primary, 55-45, which sent him into the election against Democratic challenger Doug Jones.
Alabama is a very conservative state. It was thought at first that despite Moore's reputation, he would sail to victory in Alabama. Polling in special elections is very inconsistent, but what polls did exist showed Moore ahead. It had been an odd year politically, and given Alabama's past history, it would seem that Roy Moore was on his was to joining the world's most exclusive club. And then, the allegations came.
A woman alleged that while she was a teenager, Roy Moore approached her, drove her to a secluded location, and molested her. Several other women came forward with similar stories, with various stories about being approached while young (sometimes underage, sometimes of age), and with varying levels of aggression. His denials to these allegations were...inconsistent. More stories came forward, of him being banned from malls and the YMCA after approaching young women or girls. Apparently, in something that was a bit of a tradition in Alabama, his behavior had been somewhat of an open secret. In a rare move, most of the national Republican Party condemned him, asked him to withdraw from the race, and suggested that he not be seated if he won.
The polls, which were wild before, became more inconsistent. Although one or two allegations could be denied, there were credible reports that Moore was, in effect, a child molester, and even in "deep Red" Alabama, that would disqualify him from office...right? Right?
Election night was a long night. Doug Jones depended on a heavy turnout among African-American voters, swinging at least some of Alabama's college educated whites to him, and that Moore's supporters would have a depressed turnout. And over the course of three or four hours, these things all came true, and he won the race by 50-48.3%. Alabama would now have a Democratic Senator, which would greatly curtail the ability of the Republicans to pass legislation, and would also make many Republicans nervous going into 2018. If Alabama could go Democratic, anywhere in the country could. Even with Moore's special brand of toxicity, a Republican losing in Alabama is the type of thing that makes Republicans in every other states realize that elections aren't coronations.
But the horse race numbers don't concern me. Which party has a margin in 2019 matters, but it matters less than the system as a whole. And what happened here was that we saw, quite concretely, that there is an edge to the Overton Window of discourse. The old wisdom was that the smallest blemish on a candidate could spell doom, but then someone got the idea to always attack, never defend. Just get crazier, more angry, more aggressive, blame your "enemies" for everything. This was a team sport, and if you chose the right team, that is all you had to worry about. Until finally Roy Moore pushed things too far. Yes, Doug Jones only won by 1.4% percent of the vote. Yes, most of the white residents of Alabama still supported Roy Moore, putting ethnic identity ahead of everything. But Moore still lost. There is a limit beyond which the strategy of "just go crazier" ails. And that, I think, is a relief to everyone.