While it remains unlikely that Democrats could win the seat in a general election, a Moore victory in and of itself would spell trouble for the GOP on multiple fronts.
First, Republicans on the ballot in 2018 and beyond will be pressed to defend not only Trump’s outrageous actions and remarks but also Moore’s. Not unlike what happened with Todd Akin, the GOP’s Senate nominee in Missouri in 2012, Democrats will have a field day tying candidates to the Alabama radical. Strange made the argument himself in a Washington Examiner interview. (“There are a lot of people that think my opponent would be a Todd Akin, an anchor around the neck of the party for the next couple years. I have to say, knowing him, that’s probably a valid concern — it really is.”)
Moore, who defied court orders to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom and refused to recognize gay marriage after the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, also risks making contempt for courts into a mainstay of the GOP ideology. The presidential pardon of former Maricopa County (Ariz.) sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of contempt of court, would be seen as opening the floodgates for radicals such as Moore and an invitation to state and national Republicans to defy the courts. The party that used to fancy itself as defender of “constitutional conservatism” is fast becoming a dogged opponent of the rule of law.
In addition, a loss for the Trump-backed candidate would serve as enormous encouragement to former Trump senior strategist and Breitbart editor Stephen K. Bannon, who backs Moore and is threatening to run other extremists against GOP incumbents. If someone as wacky as Moore (who, for example, thinks homosexuality should be illegal) can run and win against the president’s candidate, what is to stop any alt-right novice politician from successfully challenging, say, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), not to mention vulnerable Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
The most serious consequence of a Strange loss would be the further diminution of Trump’s stature and ability to wield power even within the GOP. He is likely to fail on health-care reform and quite possibly tax reform. His ratings are in the cellar. (According to the latest CBS News poll, “His rating for handling health care is the lowest this poll tested — at just 29 percent. Immigration meets just 35 percent approval. His overall approval rating, also now at 35 percent, is one point lower than August, and the lowest it has reached in this poll so far.”) Having achieved no significant legislative victory and proving himself to be electorally impotent in Alabama, Trump would surely be drained of whatever political sway over congressional Republicans he had. They, in turn, will be even less likely to follow his lead and provide cover for his excesses. The result is likely to be more gridlock, more dysfunction and more political defeats.