Thursday, December 14, 2017

After Alabama

The Republican Party's blueprint for a post moral society suffered a significant setback in Alabama this week. How significant a setback still remains to be seen, however. Its terribly regressive tax cut bill will likely still pass in some form, for example. But perhaps Paul Ryan's plan to follow giving more money to the rich this year with taking more from the poor in 2018 will now be marginally harder to accomplish with such a fragile majority in the Senate. Perhaps.

Analyzing election results can be tricky. But apparently Alabama's new senator won thanks largely to high turnout among black voters and diminished enthusiasm for Moore among white suburbanites. Analysts all remember how lower black turnout when Obama was not on the ballot adversely affected Democratic party prospects in midterm election results during Obama’s presidency — as well as contributing significantly to Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year. But yesterday was different, and the African-American vote in Alabama matched that of the Obama years 2008 and 2012. While that augurs well for Democrats, it remains the case, for example, that next year Democrats will have to defend more Senate seats than the Republicans will, and winning control of the Senate and the gerrymandered House, while possible, remain real challenges.

That said, Tuesday's biggest loser would seem to have been the Republican Party. The civil war within the Republican Party can only get worse, as its warring factions fight each other over a diminishing slice of the electorate. If there is any consistent lesson to be taken from this and the earlier election in Virginia, it is that - except at the presidential level - bad candidates (which the Republicans seem to do better at producing) fare worse than good candidates overall, and that the part of the electorate which looks more like America's future (minorities and younger voters) is clearly motivated to vote against Republicans. One commentator somewhere (I don't remember who it was) noted that the fact that an Alabama Republican candidate lost voters under 45 by more than 20 points suggests that the kind of "conservatism" we have become familiar with in recent decades may be en route to extinction. 

Recent history suggests, however, that motivating younger voters to vote - and motivating them and educated suburbanites to vote consistently Democratic - may still represent a real challenge for Democratic candidates. At minimum that means Democrats really need to work hard at (1) recruiting good candidates and (2) articulating a clear message (something positive that speaks to people's aspirations, not just being anti-Trump), and (3) motivating their voters actually to vote

Another big loser, of course, is the "religious right," the self-described "values voters," whose putative "evangelical" fervor's rootedness in real religion (as opposed to pure politics) has always been somewhat suspect and whose "evangelical" religion is now increasingly unmasked as rooted largely in a kind of white, ethno-cultural, political tribalism. 

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