What Lessons Will Democrats Learn from Alabama?

Roy Moore’s defeat in Alabama has taught the Republican party a number of things about the current political environment: (1) That no state is impregnable, no matter how red. (2) That there is, at least for now, a limit to what Republican voters are willing to forgive in a bad candidate. (3) That Republican turnout numbers are grim everywhere there’s been an election since November 2016. The big corollary to those lessons is pretty clear: There’s a storm coming in 2018.

But the Democrats may learn an interesting lesson from Alabama, too.

The most salient fact about Doug Jones is that he was not a classic Blue Dog conservative Democrat. He was as pro-abortion as Nancy Pelosi. Look at the placards held up at his victory party: They’re from the Human Rights Campaign, which has as its mission pushing same-sex marriage and the transgender program. It isn’t just that a Democrat has no business winning state-wide in Alabama—it’s that a Democrat like Doug Jones has no business even getting the nomination. He’s a liberal’s liberal.

The last time Democrats won a midterm wave election was 2006. Rahm Emanuel ran the DCCC and his theory of the election was that Democrats had to go out and recruit candidates who looked like their districts. This meant abandoning litmus tests and running conservative-ish—even pro-life—Democrats in winnable races. I would encourage you to go back and read this excellent Chicago Tribune piece on how Emanual waged his war.

Since the mid-aughts, however, liberals have taken control of the Democratic party and have consistently argued that reaching out to the center is a fool’s game. Instead, they want to run candidates from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

And they may well take Doug Jones’ victory as proof of their thesis.

So it’s entirely possible that Democrats are going to look at the wave gathering around them and Doug Jones’ success and decide that it means they can explicitly reject the Emanuel approach and simply run full-spectrum liberals everywhere. That makes it easier to gain traction, easier to raise money nationally, and easier to distinguish the candidate to voters.

As our side is always saying: Bold colors, not pale pastels.

I wonder how that would work out for them. As the current DCCC executive director, Dan Sena, explained to Politico, Republicans hold seats in 23 congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won; 10 that Clinton lost by less than 4 points; and 9 that Clinton lost by less than 4 points, but Obama won twice. That’s a target-rich environment and more than enough to flip the House.

To be honest, I could see it going either way. On the one hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Democrats run out a host of hard-core leftists and find themselves coming up short here and there, allowing Republicans to hold onto more seats than they really should, according to the numbers. But on the other hand, it also wouldn’t surprise me if Democrats run a super-liberal slate and the environment is so bad for the GOP—remember, Republicans have talked themselves into believing that they’ll be saved by a piece of legislation which is supported by about 30 percent of the public—that it gets the job done anyway.

The logic behind that gambit is pretty straight-forward: Democrats maximize turnout from their progressive base by running very liberal candidates. Then they hope that the spectre of Trump is enough to both (a) turnout moderate Dems while (b) depressing suburban Republican voters.

Because they other lesson from Alabama is that we’re so polarized that you’re not going to see a lot of cross-party voting. The story of the Jones-Moore election is that Democrats turned out, many educated, suburban Republicans stayed home, and only a small number of Republicans went write-in. Roy Moore does not seem to have spurred very many Republicans to switch sides and vote for the Democrat.

Democrats may decide that if a corrupt ephebophile couldn’t push voters to switch, then they can pursue a base turnout strategy without worrying about leaving too many getable Republican-leaners on the table.

Over the next few months we’ll see what sort of Democratic candidates step forward. And we’ll see exactly what the party learned from its encounter with Roy Moore.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard


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