The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump is toxic, and other lessons from Alabama

Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12 defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s U.S. Senate special election. Moore refused to concede defeat. (Video: Alice Li, Jordan Frasier, Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

In Alabama, a coalition of women, young voters and African Americans handed Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones a stunning victory. The Post reports:

Fully 96 percent of African Americans supported Jones, similar to President Obama’s 95 percent support among this group in 2012. But Jones fared much better than Obama among white voters, garnering 30 percent of their votes, twice the 15 percent who voted for Obama. Jones made particularly large gains among white women and those with college degrees. …
Alabama voters ages 18 to 44 supported Jones by a roughly 20-point margin over Moore, marking a stark shift from 2012 when Mitt Romney won voters under 45 by a small margin.

Jones did not win among white college-educated women, but he came close with 45 percent (vs. Roy Moore’s 52 percent). Overall, he won women by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin. In cities, Jones won by an 85 percent to 14 percent margin; in the suburbs, he came close to Moore (losing by a narrow 47 percent to 51 percent margin). In a state where equal numbers approved and disapproved of Donald Trump (he won with more than 60 percent in 2016; his approval is now at 48 percent), Jones won more than 90 percent of those who disapproved of Trump.

Trump’s fragile bubble just got popped — bigly

Let’s not forget, however, that Moore, a disgraced former judge (twice booted from the court) and an accused child molester who is openly racist and homophobic — received 91 percent of the Republican vote. Republicans, at least in Alabama, remain deeply mired in their theology of white grievance and largely indifferent, if not hostile, to reality. Republicans were not persuaded; they were outvoted. Should they persist in their Trumpian cult and refuse to emerge from their right-wing media bubble, they face being outvoted again and again by enraged non-Republicans — and in places far less Republican than Alabama.

Republicans seem no closer to recognizing some obvious political truths:

  • The tighter they cling to Trump, the worse they will do. He won’t help them win even in Alabama.
  • Women, especially college-educated women, can outvote non-college-educated men. Even in Alabama, white non-college-graduate men made up just 19 percent of the electorate; the combination of white and nonwhite college-educated women totaled 31 percent. Trump has gone to war with women, becoming the poster boy for loutish behavior and harassment.
  • Republicans are losing voters younger than 45 by a mile (a 20-point margin) and barely winning 45-to-64-year-olds. That’s not sustainable, especially as millennials, the largest generation to date, make their way into the electorate and see the image of a nativist, xenophobic, anti-science party.
  • Republicans lost moderates by a 25 percent to 74 percent margin. Apparently, Trump and Moore have chased all but hard-core right-wingers from the party.
  • Character matters, at some point, if the candidate’s views and alleged behavior are gross enough.

Put simply, old, white, very conservative and non-college-educated men aren’t enough even in Alabama to win. Doubling and tripling down on Trump’s narrow base may soothe his ego, but it is a disaster for the shrinking GOP, which has become off-putting, if not odious, to those outside of it.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Republican politicians may have permanently damaged their brand by association with Trump, and at least for now seem incapable of saving themselves. In 2018 and 2020, the failure to distance themselves from Trump, if not dump him altogether, may doom their chances. Trump just isn’t that popular (his approval rating is in the low-30s nationally and at less than 50 percent in Alabama). And with the #MeToo rebellion and the Robert S. Mueller III investigation proceeding, he’s likely to become less, not more, popular. Having made their Faustian bargain with Trump and adopted a stale, extreme right-wing agenda with little support, Republicans are heading for electoral disaster.

The Democrat's new platform is a raw deal for minorities, says Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome, Karen Attiah/The Washington Post)

The Democrats shouldn’t get complacent — nor ideologically extreme. They won in Virginia up and down the ticket with center-left, sober-minded candidates. They won in Alabama with a liberal, but one who is tough on crime and ran an intentionally non-ideological race. (“This race is not about Democrats or Republicans,” his website declared. “It is about the people of Alabama — giving them honest answers while working to protect their health care, rights and economic interests.”) They can turn out their base (especially young people, women and nonwhites) while sounding sane and practical enough to scoop up disillusioned ex-Republicans. A simple formula may work for them in 2018: Adhering to government ethics standards; beating back unpopular policies that hurt the middle and working class; and acting as a check on a dangerous, erratic and unfit president. If Republicans have any survival instinct, they might think seriously about how to get rid of Trump before 2018, and certainly before 2020.

Read more about this topic:

Alyssa Rosenberg: From Donald Trump to Roy Moore, the difference #MeToo and a year makes

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Alabama shows us what courage is

David Von Drehle: Doug Jones’s victory should make Trump nervous

Marc A. Thiessen: Congratulations, Steve Bannon, you just elected a Democrat in Alabama

Ed Rogers: Sen. Shelby channels Atticus Finch, saves the day in Alabama

Alexandra Petri: Tell me more about Steve Bannon’s genius

Erik Wemple: When Breitbart isn’t enough

Jonathan Capehart: Doug Jones wins for Alabama and Democrats, and sends a message to the world