Last week's statewide elections resulted in huge victories for Democrats and have left the Republican Party rattled. Democrats swept the top offices in Virginia, where Ralph Northam was elected governor, and in New Jersey, where the election of Phil Murphy has put an end to the Chris Christie era. With Democrats (including one socialist) picking up a plethora of state legislature seats, this time it’s Republicans who are left thinking, “What happened?”
The election results are a testament to the consequences of party disunity. Ed Gillespie, whom Republicans viewed as a career politician willing to say anything to win, rode the fence between embracing and distancing himself from Trump. Voters can forgive a lot, but they will not forgive perceived insincerity and indecisiveness. While Trump was able to unite the conservative sect of the party and mount a surprising victory last year, he has yet to unite the disparate factions of the GOP to pass major legislation.
Many establishment Republicans blame these recent defeats solely on the White House, but the GOP’s problem is bigger than the actions of any one Republican. The party continues to fracture, and what used to be a fairly broad base of conservatives has now split into two polarizing factions. On one side, there are the populist types like Donald Trump, who are generally more suspicious of international trade agreements and do not subscribe to conventional norms. On the other are the more moderate, establishment Republicans who feel progressively alienated by the current leadership. Moderate Republican voters have become increasingly important in elections because, while they may not vote for Democrats, they might simply choose to stay home on Election Day. This indifference could cause a nightmare scenario for Republicans in 2018.
As analysts continue to mull over the meaning of last week’s elections, one thing is clear — the Republican Party is in trouble unless it can find a way to unify the disparate factions. Desperate to hold onto their slim 52-46 majority in the Senate, Republicans cannot afford to see Democrats flip any seats in 2018. The party’s first test is quickly approaching, with Roy Moore facing Doug Jones in the Alabama senate election in December. The race has recently become controversial, following a Washington Post article detailing alleged sexual misconduct by Moore.
High ranking GOP officials in Alabama are already considering potential options in the event Roy Moore withdraws from the race. The special election has already been moved once, and moving it again would not be ideal. However, Alabama Republicans have supermajorities in the legislature, and every statewide elected official is a Republican, so it is unlikely that they will simply sit back and do nothing.
Ironically, if the GOP base had listened to President Trump and supported Luther Strange in the primary, the ballot would not be in contention. During the run-off, President Trump accurately predicted that Roy Moore could easily lose to the Democratic candidate, and recent events have shown that to be the case. Sadly, it appears that President Trump, along with those of us in conservative media who sent out multiple warnings about Roy Moore’s potential toxicity to the party and the state, have been proven correct.
I hope that the Moore scandal teaches primary voters an important lesson: just because someone is anti-establishment and yells the loudest doesn’t mean that they are the best candidate to govern. If it does turn out that Moore is guilty of these charges, then he will be forced to step down, and Alabama elected officials will find an acceptable Republican alternative. I know the leadership in my state; they are innovative thinkers and realize that losing a deep red Senate seat would be devastating for the GOP agenda.
The leadership has no other option. Either a Democratic Senator will be elected, or Judge Moore will be elected and potentially expelled from office. Unless news breaks in the next 48 hours to significantly discredit the allegations, it is almost certain Moore will be forced to resign by Friday. Hopefully, whoever is put forth as the substitute will be someone who can properly represent the people of Alabama on the national stage and someone the voters can and will support.
Special Thanks to Katherine Pickle and Daniel Bruce, members of my firm, who helped write, research, and edit this piece.