There are many Democrats, progressives and run of the mill Trump resisters, who are wildly celebrating the recent victory of Democrat Doug Jones over accused pedophile and proven proto-fascist Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race. Indeed, some overheated commentary have viewed this election as the first step in the inevitable Fall of the House of Trump.
While many might wish that this were true, a strong dose of reality is in order. First and foremost, the number 48.9 comes to mind. That number represents the percentage of Alabama voters who voted for Roy Moore despite the multiple accusations of child molestation and predatory sexual conduct. It must be kept in mind that 48.9% of Alabama voters were prepared to have Roy Moore represent them in Washington despite his stated belief that America was “great” during the times of slavery, that there should be a religious test for American citizens seeking to hold office and that the Supreme Court of the United States could be defied with impunity.
Roy Moore and Doug Jones were separated by 1.5% which means that with the movement of a few votes Roy Moore would be the next United States Senator from Alabama and then there would be no joy in Democratic Mudville. Further, the fact that a Democratic candidate could beat such a damaged opponent by less than 2% should be a cause for real concern, not a reason to celebrate.
Indeed, Doug Jones has already indicated that he is prepared to vote with the Republican majority in the Senate. It may turn out that the only thing to celebrate about Doug Jones victory is that he is not Roy Moore.
And last week’s Alabama returns point out the serious flaw in Democratic political strategy. By treating Donald Trump as an anomaly, a virtual outlier that can be defeated and obliterated from history in 2020, Democrats are missing the big picture. Donald Trump and the Republicans won in 2016 because the Republicans have been working at the local and state levels for over a decade, filling seats in city council, state legislatures, state houses and Congressional seats and then cementing their victories with the mortar of gerrymandering.
Of course Hillary Clinton’s sclerotic and disastrous presidential campaign did not help matters, but the race should never have been close enough for her to lose, not with a candidate like Donald Trump. But without a coherent message, with too much emphasis on analytics and not enough attention to the basic mechanics of politics – message=turnout=victory – in hindsight the loss in 2016 was predictable, if not inevitable.
There may be glimpses of a new Democratic day, episodes where progressive forces seem poised to make America truly great for the first time. But if there is to be something more than episodic victories followed by long stretches of defeat or hollow victories (see Alabama 2017) there needs to be serious focus on the development of a coherent message and greater concentration on retaining the base of Democratic voters.
The recent tax bill proposed by Republicans is only an opening act in a true tragedy that holds no comic relief for the American people. Enriching the rich, dismantling the social service safety net and further marginalizing those who are already on the margin are part of the Brave New America that Republicans and their supporters envision. Democrats simply must have a response and be able to articulate an alternate vision.
This Democratic message has to include a narrative that goes beyond how bad Donald Tinyhands is and how mean the Republicans are. The alternate vision must not only be inclusive, it must be a vision that is relevant to the men and women who vote in this country and are not inspired by Democrats even as they are repulsed by much of the Republican vision of today and tomorrow.
The lesson of Alabama is that the Doug Jones victory over Roy Moore is not the dawning of a new day. And those who believe differently embrace that mirage at their own peril.