In GOP land tonight, corks are coming out of bottles and not to celebrate. Oh, no. Republican senators running for reelection are pouring a stiff one and trying to figure out what to do.Jeff Sessions’ efforts to kiss and make up with Donald Trump went catastrophically south. Trump just doubled and tripled down and humiliated the man, whatever he said. So the message Republican senators have now is, the wrath of Trump will destroy you. However, common sense is saying, as Trump’s polls continue to crater, that being aligned with Trump is not the most desirable thing either. So what to do? This is quite a pickle and I certainly wouldn’t want to be Susan Collins, Martha McSally, Thom Tillis or Cory Gardner tonight.
But it would be nice to be Doug Jones. Jones’ senate seat is said to be the most vulnerable seat up for election, but I disagree and I’m going to tell you why in just a moment. As you recall, Jones ran against Humbert Humbert imitator Roy Moore in a special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacant senate seat. And won. And it was expected when Trump and Sessions parted company that Sessions would run for his old senate seat and handily regain it. That did not take place. Sessions lost to contender Tommy Tuberville. This is no small matter. A very big deal went down tonight in Alabama. Former football coach Tommy Tuberville has no experience in politics and his platform consists entirely of supporting Donald Trump.
Sessions may have had four terms as a senator from Alabama and been part of that political establishment but he blew his campaign by reiterating how supportive he was of Donald Trump’s agenda, at a time when Trump was telling Alabamians that Sessions had stabbed him in the back, in so many words. Sessions’ key error was to try and smooth over the damage done by his contretemps with Trump and in so doing, he looked like a man of zero integrity, one, and even worse, as a man who believed his constituents were so stupid that they would believe that yes, Trump hated him, but it didn’t matter because he was supporting Trump anyway. It did not fly.
So where does that leave the Jones v. Tuberville match? Far better off than you might surmise, the reason being that Sessions going down in flames may just be a sign of the times. The Republican party is about to undergo a major transformation. The election of Trump has only uncovered the rot and corruption in the party and there will be a new cast of characters in the future, as some form of the GOP rises from the ashes after Trump finishes burning it to the ground. Doug Jones might be sitting pretty. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Read this piece from Matthew Stokes, The Bulwark:
Tuberville’s rise has something of the scent of smoke-filled back rooms. Without the support of numerous leaders in the state’s agricultural sector, it’s likely that the former coach would have disappeared as a vanity candidate months ago. Yet some institutional guardrails might have existed to prevent a candidate bereft of policy ideas from winning a seat in the world’s greatest deliberative body. In the absence of a powerful party, leaders fall back on their own tribal self-interest, but in doing so they undermine the preconditions for any institutional renaissance that would lead to a more stable, less populist government. Then again, less populism might not be to their advantage.
All of which brings us back to Doug Jones. Make no mistake: Jones is a liberal in every conventional sense; he is not an economic or foreign policy progressive. Consequently, if suburban and college-educated voters are faced with the option of an inexperienced, unpredictable Tommy Tuberville whose loyalty is to his financial backers and an erratic president or six more years of moderately liberal Doug Jones, they may just opt for the devil they know.
This is how parties collapse; when they lack the institutional strength to protect their own purpose and reputation—their own ideas—there is the corresponding risk that despite all reasonable arguments to the contrary, voters will abandon them. Every election that Republicans spend arguing over loyalty to Donald Trump is an election with the potential for voters to flee to a party that does not make such demands. It happened once before in Alabama. There is no reason to think it cannot happen again. […]
Should Tuberville win the primary and then in the general election flip the seat back to the GOP, it’s a safe bet that he will fill three roles in the Senate. First, he will represent the interests of the state’s business community in much the same manner as any other politician. Second, he will be a reliable vote for whatever Mitch McConnell wants or needs. Third, Tuberville is likely to remain a vocal Trump supporter—should the president be re-elected. Under a President Biden, a Senator Tuberville would be a witty, opinionated voice of opposition, but it seems unlikely that he would be part of any shift toward responsible Republican governance in the post-Trump era.
My take on this is that Tuberville is going to be seen as too much like Trump to be a viable candidate. I think that Alabama will go with the incumbent, Doug Jones, rather than pick another rank amateur, showman type to vote into office, after the drubbing they’ve taken at the hands of the rank amateur showman in the White House.
If this theory is correct, everything Trump touches dies is the operant principle and it creates a win/win scenario for Doug Jones. Trump touched Sessions’ career, it’s up in smoke, a nice piece of karmic redemption considering that Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Hope you’re happy with your decision now, Jefferson Beauregard. And Trump’s full throated endorsement of Tuberville may have the same effect, of tanking him. Unless I am crazy, in the months ahead anybody that Trump says is his main man, who is just like him and who likewise says he’ll do whatever Trump says, is self-immolating.
On these facts, Doug Jones will be just fine. Sessions going down in flames in the primary is a seismic event. Let’s treat it as much. Let’s not count Senator Jones out. I disagree with that “most vulnerable” tag. It’s no longer applicable. My bet tonight, unless something radically changes between now and November, is that Jones will be reelected. If I’m right, on election night, you guys have to buy champagne, so that I can make popsicles and invite Jared and Ivanka over to celebrate.