Controversial far-right firebrand Roy Moore won his Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, comfortably defeating incumbent Luther Strange, who had been appointed to the seat after Jeff Sessions resigned to become President Trump’s attorney general.
While Trump had endorsed Strange, even staging a large rally with him, many Alabama Republicans saw Moore as the more Trumpian candidate.
The race became a referendum, not on Trump, but instead on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. While trying to save one of his incumbents, McConnell might have accidentally hurt Strange by becoming so closely associated with his campaign. Roy Moore, by contrast, pledged to oppose McConnell remaining the leader of the Senate’s Republicans.
Roy Moore’s anti-establishment streak is a mixed bag
Moore is a bizarre caricature of the state he plans to represent. Twice elected as the state’s chief justice, he was twice removed from office for refusing to comply with federal court rulings.
He was first removed after he tried to turn his courthouse into a monument to the Ten Commandments and so-called “biblical law.” The second came when the Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage. Moore, who still insists that gays and lesbians should be thrown in jail, tried to countermand the high court’s decision.
Moore is a bomb-thrower, both for better and for worse. On the positive side, he will definitely not be another go-along-to-get-along Republican, dutifully casting his vote as directed.
Shortly after his victory, Moore cited Republican Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz as his potential allies within the caucus. That gives some reason for hope, that he will throw in behind them on pushes for small government, less spending, and rolling back regulations.
If he does, however, it will be more out of his desire to stick it to McConnell and the rest of the “establishment.” Moore is no free-market hardliner, and shows little interest in economic and fiscal policy as such. His vote might swing the right way, but rarely if ever will it be for the right reasons.
Mainstream Republicans won’t let Senator Moore get away with much
The thought of Roy Moore getting a vote on confirmation of federal judges is infuriating to many. They are right to be concerned about someone who has been twice removed from the bench for refusing to follow his oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Mainstream Republicans have every right to be concerned about a lawless theocrat who thinks his own peculiar interpretation of the Bible overrides his legal obligation as a public servant in a Constitution-bound republic.
That said, it’s unlikely that the divisive social issues Roy Moore has strong opinions on will come before the full Senate. Most Republican Senators don’t want to focus on such things, viewing them as a counterproductive distraction.
Moore won’t be able to introduce and pass legislation calling for gay men to be jailed and Muslims to be barred from public office, both ideas he’s endorsed in the past.
Senator Roy Moore’s comments could prove to be a liability for the GOP
But even without the ability to legislate, the symbolism of such an unrestrained bigot sitting in the Senate is hard for the modern Republican Party to stomach. And in spite of the president’s endorsement of Strange, it’s likely that Moore will be one of the most reliable supporters of Trump on the hill.
Moore’s arrival will be decidedly unwelcome in the Senate, which has long prized its collegial atmosphere and civility among its members. Collegiality and civility are two words that definitely are not in Roy Moore’s vocabulary.
Whether this is a good or a bad thing is something advocates of liberty and smaller government can fairly disagree on. On the one hand, sharply divisive partisanship doesn’t do us much good. On the other hand, neither does bland establishment bipartisanship.
Either way, it’s unlikely that Moore will be a popular or influential voice amongst his colleagues. Instead, like Ted Cruz, he is likely to become a pariah who is intensely disliked by the senators whose votes he would need to accomplish anything. Given the sort of things Moore would want to accomplish, that’s probably not the worst outcome.
Democrats hold out hope they might be able to prevent a Senator Roy Moore
Of course, all of this is only if Moore wins the election. He still has to defeat Doug Jones, a former prosecutor and the Democratic candidate. Normally, in deep-red Alabama it would be a foregone conclusion.
Democrats, however, point to the last time Moore was on a statewide ballot, for his slot as chief justice. That year, he won only 51 percent of the vote, even as Mitt Romney cruised to winning the state by double digits in the presidential election.
Moore is definitely more vulnerable than a generic Republican. Whether that will be enough to overcome the hardcore conservative tilt of the electorate remains to be seen.
Due to the state’s extremely restrictive ballot access laws, Moore and Jones will be the only two candidates on the ballot.
(Photo of Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, Roy Moore, displaying a pistol to express his support for Second Amendment as he speaks at a campaign rally on September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama by Scott Olson.)