Polls close at 8 p.m. ET. Trump’s victory last fall will forever be known as a titanic polling failure but it wasn’t really; by the end of the race he was within three points of Hillary, a normal margin of statistical error. A Luther Strange victory tonight — now that would be a titanic polling failure. Yesterday’s Trafalgar poll had Roy Moore on his way to a 16-point landslide. The two most recent polls of the state before that had Moore by 10. Only once since the primary has his lead been as small as six points; every other independent poll has had him ahead by eight or better. Even if Trafalgar’s an outlier and Moore’s lead hasn’t grown lately, there’s every reason to believe he’s on his way to a decisive victory. There’s even a chance that the race will be called promptly at 8.
If Strange shocks the world, it’ll be Trump’s crowning glory as president (so far). He’ll be credited for singlehandedly dragging a lackluster establishmentarian past a well-known populist in a very red state. His influence over the Republican base will be seen as total and unassailable. Not even the combined forces of Steve Bannon, Sarah Palin, Sebastian Gorka, Nigel Farage, and Breitbart could counter the gravitational pull of the MAGA north star, as it turned out. If Strange doesn’t shock the world, if he goes down in flames despite Trump’s best efforts for him over the past two weeks, populism, not Trumpism, will be seen as dominant among the base. Bannon will exult (privately) that he and Moore taught Trump a hard lesson, that he can’t expect rank and file Republicans to line up behind him unless he sticks to a populist agenda. Depending on the margin, Trump may be left sweating out a way to spin the defeat. If Strange loses by a few points, it’s easy — “Big Luther got close with my help, ran a good race!” If he loses by 16, not so easy. Trump will blame McConnell and voter unhappiness at Senate paralysis on ObamaCare but a landslide loss for his guy is a rebuke any way you slice it.
Of course, if it happens, the first order of business tonight for the winning side will be to insist that it’s not a rebuke. It’s a victory for Trump! He wins when populism wins, even when, er, the candidate he personally campaigned for gets blown out. Moore and Bannon have been exceptionally careful to stay on the right side of the presidential ego, knowing that Alabamans might be fine with the idea of choosing Moore over a Trump-endorsed alternative but not as fine with choosing Moore over Trump himself. To the extent that’s the way the media sells tonight’s result tomorrow, it’s dicey for them. Trump won’t be so butt-hurt at Strange’s defeat that he’d refuse to campaign for Moore — he promised to stump for him at last week’s rally, in fact — but blather that Moore and Bannon defeated him in Alabama will bruise his alpha-male sensibilities, which will make him unpredictable. Gotta be magnanimous in victory and kiss that POTUS ass.
Here’s the Decision Desk HQ election tracker, which will be updating live with results (often faster than the AP does):
Below you’ll find the handy dandy Hot Air Twitter widget, which remains the best way I know to funnel updates and breaking news from many different sources into one location. One thing to watch out for tomorrow if Moore wins is a rapidly congealing conventional wisdom among the media that this means all Republican incumbents are in danger of being upset by populist insurgents in primaries next year. Bannon, the right’s most prominent and enthusiastic populist, will naturally be pushing that line too. Certainly Moore’s victory will bode badly for unpopular incumbents like Jeff Flake, but remember that he’s not some random-ish challenger like Kelli Ward is in Arizona. He’s a local celebrity by dint of his high-profile fights on the Alabama Supreme Court against gay marriage and for monuments to the Ten Commandments. In that sense he’s following the Trump formula — not just populism but populism plus fame. (See also Kid Rock?) And like Trump, he also had Steve Bannon hop aboard his campaign after it had already gained some traction. Maybe he and POTUS will bond over that once he’s a senator.
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