A recently surfaced memo from the GOP establishment’s Senate Leadership Fund reveals Republican insiders believe Judge Roy Moore’s defeat of Washington-approved Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama’s Senate primary runoff last month shouldn’t worry incumbent lawmakers ahead of 2018. Reading between the lines, it almost seems as though the party establishment is open to sabotaging Moore as he faces off against Democrat Doug Jones.
A memo from the PAC obtained by The New York Times just after Strange’s defeat expressed concern that Republican voters have begun directing anger previously reserved for President Barack Obama to members of Congress, regardless of their political affiliation.
Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, wrote: “The Republican Congress has replaced President Obama as the bogeyman for conservative G.O.P. primary voters. This narrative is driven by Trump himself, and it resonates with primary voters who believe the Republican Congress ‘isn’t doing enough’ (as we frequently heard in focus groups) to advance the president’s agenda.”
And after Moore won the runoff, there was plenty of chatter about what could happen if Bannon and outside conservative groups double down on pushing primary challenges in other upcoming races.
Still, members of the GOP establishment don’t appear all that concerned because of the circumstances surrounding the Moore/Strange contest.
Again from Law’s memo: “The massive resources that independent groups can deploy in races tend to obscure the paramount importance of candidate quality.
“Moore is a folk hero with rural religious voters who admire Moore’s intransigent stands on displaying the Ten Commandments and bucking the U.S. Supreme Court on gay marriage. … Most critically, Strange was dogged by his appointment to the Senate by disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley.”
Law also advised incumbents against putting too much stock in Bannon’s influence over the Alabama race, writing that the Breitbart head doesn’t offer the “kind of sustained political engagement that moves voters in the long slog of regular elections.”
There’s no doubt that much of Moore’s support came from religious voters pleased with the stands he made on the Ten Commandments and against gay marriage. But on the ground in Alabama, it was also easy to discern that support for the judge in his race against Strange was about more than predictable Bible Belt voter behavior. It had plenty to do with the optics of the respective candidates’ relationships with government power.
Moore’s relationship with government power has been undeniably rocky over the years– he’s been thrown out of office twice. Strange, meanwhile, has had all the trappings of establishment golden boy– a career long dedication to serving political insiders culminated in his appointment to the vacant Senate seat by a governor Strange’s own Attorney General’s office was slated to investigate.
Voters noticed. And despite Trump’s endorsement, Alabama Republicans couldn’t help but realize a vote for Strange was a vote against everything they’d voted for Trump to accomplish.
Draining the swamp is high on that list of priorities.
That’s troublesome for a GOP establishment largely comprised of swamp creatures who’ve taken the form of lifelong Washington politicians. So troublesome, in fact, that shortly after Trump’s election the GOP’s congressional leaders asked the president to drop the swamp talk altogether.
If Moore makes it to Washington, he’ll only shed more light on the GOP’s swampiest elected officials. When I spoke to Moore at a rally earlier this year, I asked him if he was comfortable being an obstructionist. Given his history in government, it was probably a stupid question– but the answer was yes. His litmus test for approval of any legislation, Moore said, would hinge on absolute constitutionality.
That’s bad news for the GOP establishment because it means more power for a harshly conservative block of the party– think Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz and Mike Crapo– it’s been trying to silence for years. A Moore victory would also embolden any other conservative outsiders thinking about mounting primary challenges to incumbents in coming races.
There is an alternative in Alabama that would help the establishment hold on to its power– but it would require the unthinkable to occur.
A Jones victory doesn’t seem very likely in a state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1992– but that creates even more incentive for the Washington GOP establishment to quietly make sure Alabamians do this year.
If the deeply red state ends up throwing a victory to Jones in December, the establishment will emerge with a ripe “told you so” to ward off later outsider challenges.
The GOP, of course, isn’t going to actively campaign against Moore. But it probably doesn’t have to, as Hot Air pointed out today:
This makes two polls of the state in five days that have Moore ahead of Democrat Doug Jones by less than 10 points. Decision Desk HQ’s survey published last Friday had the race Moore 50, Jones 44. Today’s new one from JMC Analytics has it Moore 48, Jones 40, well in line with the earlier poll. It’s Moore’s race to lose and losing would be hard in Alabama, but for the moment this is no walkover for the GOP. And that makes a tough call for Democrats even tougher: Do they spend money earmarked for other races on this longshot or do they stay out of Alabama and then wonder What Might Have Been if Jones loses narrowly?
Bottom line is that to avoid having Moore become another conservative headache within the party while also gaining a big talking point against later outside challenges, the GOP establishment may only have to do what it does best: nothing.