David Drucker calls this a “GOP nightmare” in the making. I don’t see it. A new Moore run could be quite useful to establishment Republicans.
Moore, 72, a former state judge, made the rounds at last Friday’s Alabama Republican Party dinner gala. A few days later, a new political action committee run by Moore’s son, Caleb Moore, issued an email fundraising appeal…
If Moore runs, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, would take action to block him from the nomination. Otherwise, the NRSC plans to stay out of the Alabama primary.
“The NRSC’s official stance is ABRM: anyone but Roy Moore,” said Kevin McLaughlin, the committee’s executive director. “The only thing Doug Jones and I agree on is that his only prayer for electoral success in 2020 is a rematch with Roy Moore.”
The new PAC started by Moore’s son is called “Conservative States of America” or “CSA,” in case you thought a new Moore campaign would cause the GOP fewer needless headaches than the last one did.
The nightmare scenario is straightforward. A bunch of establishment Republicans scramble to run for the GOP nomination, seeing Doug Jones as easy pickings in the general election. But there are too many of them and the bulk of the primary vote splits multiple ways. That leaves an opening for Moore to jump in, consolidate the populist vote, and breeze to victory. Suddenly we’re facing Jones-Moore II — a prospect that would make Jones happy, since Moore might be the only prominent Republican in Alabama whom he’s capable of beating.
Moore, who was defeated in 2017 amid sexual misconduct allegations, said this year that he believes the election was “stolen” from him by Democrats and a disinformation program on social media. Jones (D-Ala.) said in an interview that the only recourse for that claim is for Moore to run again and win the Republican nomination.
“If he really believes that and if the Republican Party really believes that then they all ought to just step aside, have a press conference with him and let’s just do it again,” Jones said Tuesday.
There are two flaws in the nightmare scenario, though. One: You need to believe that Republican leaders, starting with Trump, would allow the “establishment lane” of the primary to become crowded knowing full well how that might benefit Moore. I can’t imagine it. Everyone from POTUS to the NRSC to Mitch McConnell to the state party would be pulling strings behind the scenes to clear the field for a single establishment candidate — possibly Rep. Bradley Byrne, who’s already announced he’s running. Two: You also need to believe that Alabama Republicans would choose to double down on Moore after the debacle of 2017 instead of rolling the dice on someone more electable. Even many populists who are sympathetic to him and who feel that he got a raw deal from the eleventh-hour accusations about him chasing teenaged girls as a middle-aged man would surely, if reluctantly, opt for different candidates this time in the name of defeating Jones. Renominating Moore in Alabama would be like Democrats renominating Hillary.
Plus, remember that Moore would need 50 percent in the primary to win the nomination. Anything short of that would force him into a runoff. He won a runoff against Luther Strange in 2017 but that was before the teenaged-girls scandal emerged and before he proved himself capable of fumbling away one of the easiest gimme seats in the country for a Republican. It’s inconceivable that he’d be the choice of a majority of GOPers over a generic Republican next time given his weaknesses.
So, how might he prove useful to establishment Republicans, as I suggested up top? In the same way that Joe Arpaio was useful to them in the Arizona primary last year. Martha McSally was a weak candidate and would have been in real jeopardy in a one-on-one race with populist Kelli Ward. Then Arpaio jumped in and ran to Ward’s right, the populist vote split, and undecideds began to gravitate to McSally towards the end of the race as it became clear that neither populist had a real chance of beating her in a three-way race. If Byrne faces a challenge for the nomination from a more credible populist in Alabama like, say, Mo Brooks, he could be in trouble — unless Moore gets in and gobbles up some of Brooks’s support. That might not save Byrne since he too would face a runoff if he won the primary with less than 50 percent, but a divided populist vote might help him by leading undecideds to view him as the inevitable winner. And even if Byrne ended up in a runoff, he’d likely win the first round of the primary against the divided populist candidates, handing him a bunch of good buzz before the runoff election.
If worse somehow came to worst and every Alabama primary voter suffered a head injury and suddenly Moore was leading again in the early polls, I think there might even be a “Draft Jeff Sessions” push to get him into the race to stop Moore. How that would play with Trump I have no idea, but Sessions would be a reliable vote in the Senate for border enforcement, whatever hard feelings exist between him and POTUS. It’d be hard for Trump to conclude that six years of Sessions aren’t better than six more of Doug Jones.
Exit question: Isn’t it *highly* likely that Moore would defeat Jones in a rematch given that Trump will be at the top of the ballot next year? Turnout always goes way up in presidential election; Trump received 1.3 million votes in Alabama in 2016, just about the same amount as Jones and Moore combined received in 2017. (And that race saw high turnout for a special election.) Expect to hear that a lot from Moore fans if he does get into the race. Literally anyone can and will win the seat for the GOP next year, so let’s go ahead and play our weakest hand.