Early Wednesday morning, President Trump responded to Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory over embattled Republican Roy Moore in the special election in Alabama after an ugly campaign marked by allegations of Moore’s past predatory behavior involving teen girls.
While Trump is famous for his combative tweets, his first statement in response to Jones’ big win was gracious, though he was sure to remind Jones and the nation that the battle for Congress isn’t over.
“Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory,” wrote Trump. “The write-i votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
Trump followed up that tweet with another post in which he highlighted his support for Moore’s primary opponent Luther Strange, but then offered a conciliatory comment to the defeated Republican.
“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right!” wrote Trump. “Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”
Trump’s claims are correct: he did predict that Moore would struggle in the election and his support did impact results to some degree in both the primary and the general election. After wavering on his support for Moore among the allegations of past sexual misconduct, the president eventually backed Moore more vigorously and Jones’ lead diminished. The president’s support, however, was clearly not enough to secure the win.
Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro argues that Moore’s defeat reveals several important things that Republicans need to internalize if they want to be successful in the Trump era. Among those lessons is that candidates must understand how Trump’s influence works. As Shapiro puts it, “Being openly anti-Trump has serious electoral consequences in a primary, but Trump has no coattails in general elections”:
There’s a serious conflict for Republicans between primaries and general elections with regard to President Trump. Trump doesn’t have coattails in either — he backed Strange in the primaries and Moore in the general — but he does have reverse coattails in the primaries, meaning that if you oppose Trump, you’re toast (see Flake, Jeff). That means that a lot of mainstream conservative candidates will be ousted in the primaries, winnowing the field down for the general in a less palatable way. And Trump’s intervention in local races, just like Barack Obama before him, matters very little when the pedal hits the metal.
Among the other issues at work in the Alabama election is the ongoing “establishment” battle within the Republican Party. Moore was presented as “anti-establishment,” but the definition of that label has continued to erode, and having a candidate with that label clearly does not guarantee that Republicans will turn out to vote. On a moral level, as Shapiro highlights, Moore’s defeat shows there is still a “bridge too far” for voters, even in a hyper-partisan age.