Roy Moore or President Donald Trump. Who lost Alabama? It seems logical to believe that a man accused of having sexually harassed minors wouldn’t be the best candidate, but that’s not the reason columnists all over the world are talking about Alabama. The reason is that the stronghold Trump has built up is starting to wear down.
This isn’t the first significant Republican defeat since Trump has been in the White House. Florida, which held a gubernatorial election framed as a referendum on the president’s policies, was already hostile territory and finally fell into Democratic hands in November. But what happened in Alabama is an even bigger blow. Alabama is a bastion in the South for the Republicans; for decades it has maintained stable Republican loyalty. The vacancy now to be occupied by a Democrat is doubly important from a strategic point of view. First, because the Republican Senate majority, tasked with passing the president’s major bills, has gone from 51 to 49 at a critical moment in which the tax cut plan has to be passed. (One Republican senator has already announced he’ll vote against it, leaving its passage up in the air.*) Second, if the divisions in the Republican Party were already apparent during the vote to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law, this defeat will only divide the party even further.
This special election was so important for the president’s plans that he himself got involved, sending his former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and publicly attacking as false and as lies the testimony of the women who are taking sexual harassment claims to the courts. But this time, the Republicans lost the battle in a state where the Democrats’ victory, as one American columnist put it, is as improbable as Jamaica beating New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup.
That’s why the strategic importance of this defeat transcends the borders of an American state that over here we cannot even locate on a map. The important point is that on the Republican side, an internal debate that some are already calling a “civil war” is being re-opened. This “war’” is taking place between the populists who support the president, and those who see Trump as an opportunity to pass conservative-friendly legislation but who distrust a histrionic figure who reveals his decisions through social media, bypassing party channels.
The result of this election is a hard blow for both sides, but with a president who hates losing, we can only imagine the rage with which he’s had to accept defeat. Alabama isn’t the United States, and we can’t necessarily conclude from this election that there’s been such a decrease in support for Trump that we’ll avoid at least the beginning of his second term in 2020. However, it’s true that a loss in this Republican territory is very bad news for him and his supporters. On the other hand, for those of us who are uneasy waking up every morning to a new threat, perhaps this is the first crack in Trump’s wall.
*Editor’s note: The GOP tax bill was passed in Congress and President Trump signed it into law on Dec. 22, 2017.