For a year now, there’s been a myth among Republicans: the Legend of Trump.
It goes something like this. Once upon a time, there was an unbeatable candidate, a world-famous politician whose husband had been president, who received unquestioning loyalty from the media. Then came the Dragonslayer: a real-estate mogul with a toilet of gold and a tongue of iron, who cut the unconquerable evil queen down to size and seized the throne from her. The laws of political gravity simply didn’t apply to him: He could utter any vulgarity, brazen through any scandal, batter down any media infrastructure. And if Republicans followed him — if they lit their torches from his — they too could slay dragons.
Now, it’s quite possible that Donald Trump was the only Republican who could have defeated Hillary Clinton — other Republicans might have tried to take the high ground with a candidate significantly dirtier than the local garbage dump. Trump has no tact and no compunction, so he was always willing to drag her off her high horse. But Trump truly won not because he was a stellar candidate — far from it — but because Hillary Clinton was an awful candidate. And this means not only that his dragonslaying isn’t duplicable, but also that other candidates with similarly shady backgrounds who attempt to imitate him will end up failing dramatically. In other words, the laws of political gravity still apply.
We learned that last night in Alabama, where Roy Moore lost an unlosable Senate race in a state that just three years ago went 97 percent for an unopposed Senator Jeff Sessions, who gave up his seat to become Trump’s much-maligned attorney general. Moore ran the worst campaign in recent memory, and he lost because of it. Republicans weren’t going to show up in droves to vote for a man credibly accused of child molestation, a fellow who deployed his campaign spokespeople to explain that Muslims can’t sit in Congress and that homosexuals ought to wind up in prison.
Moore was already in a dogfight before the sexual-abuse allegations. And he attempted to Trump his way out of those allegations: He stonewalled, he insisted it was all a media witch hunt, he shouted “establishment” over and over. He even called in the Dragonslayer himself, who tweeted from on high and rallied on the Alabama border. And Moore lost.
Trumpism, it turns out, isn’t a philosophy. It’s just a man who ran and won against the most unpalatable candidate in modern American history. That’s an incredible accomplishment. It’s not a strategy.