Two facts stand out from yesterday’s election to the U.S. Senate. The first is that the Democrat candidate Doug Jones won, reducing the Republican majority in the upper house to a knife-edge 51-49. The second is that 48.4 per cent of voters in a high turnout opted for Roy Moore, the far-right candidate supported by Donald Trump, who stands accused of multiple cases of sexual assault against young women.
It was a defeat, most of all, for the President, who had stood by Moore in spite not only of the many accusations of sexual misconduct faced by the firebrand former judge, but against the advice of senior Republicans.
Democrats are now increasingly confident that in next year’s mid-term congressional elections they will take back the Senate, and possibly even the House of Representatives, turning Trump into a lame duck President just two years into his term of office.
The last time a Democrat won a Senate seat in Alabama was 1992, when the candidate was Richard Shelby, who promptly switched allegiance and has sat as a Republican ever since. Such a turnaround is extremely rare in American politics, especially in the South. The GOP, which in recent days, has begun to perk up a little, cheered by the early success of its efforts to reform the federal tax code, will be left wondering if the liberal landslide predicted for the mid-terms spells the end of the Trump supremacy. Some will be despondent, others relieved.
Typically, the President himself refuses to acknowledge the message that looks to have been sent by voters. As far as he is concerned, a skirmish has been lost, but the war is continuing to go in his direction. “It never ends,” he tweeted.
Moore – a former chief justice of Alabama, dismissed for refusing to remove tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments from the entrance to his courthouse – has demanded a recount, which is his right given the closeness of the result. An old-style evangelical Christian, opposed to abortion, opposed to same-sex marriage, a stern proponent of the death penalty, he rode to his local polling station on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat.
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Such views would normally guarantee victory in the state known as the “Heart of Dixie.” The fact that he lost, albeit by a whisker, could be an indication, in the midst of the moral panic now gripping America, that the tide is finally turning for Trump and his harsh, seat-of-the-pants administration.
For Jones, a 63-year-old former federal prosecutor, the race was about dignity and respect.
“This campaign,” he told cheering supporters, “has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which zip code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.”
The one fly in the ointment for the Democrats is that the current interim Senator who Jones now replaces will hold on to his vote until January 19. Luther Strange – who sounds like he belongs in the pages of DC Comics – is closely aligned with the President, and if, as has been rumoured, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell demands a vote on the GOP’s tax reforms before Jones can take his seat, anything could yet happen. As Trump has reminded us, it never ends.