Alabama loss for Trump candidate bolsters insurgents
Fuente Financial Times
Win by evangelical firebrand sparks talk of further Republican party revolution
Judge Roy Moore, a firebrand evangelical and former kick-boxer, cantered to the voting station in Gallant on his horse Sundance, and proclaimed a political revolution just hours after brandishing his revolver at a rally to prove his conservative credentials.
Wearing a cowboy hat and flanked by his wife, sister and mother, Mr Moore told the Financial Times that the Republican establishment had failed to convince voters in the Alabama Republican senate primary to abandon him for “Big Luther” Strange, the mainstream Republican candidate who boasted the unlikely support of Donald Trump.
“The establishment is putting $30m in this race and thinking they can buy the people of Alabama, which they can’t,” Mr Moore said, after tying his horse to a gate. “The people of Alabama have seen through this.”
The Vietnam veteran and West Point graduate was vindicated 11 hours later when his 6ft 9 rival conceded defeat. That paved the way for Mr Moore to face Doug Jones, a Democratic former prosecutor, on December 12 for the Senate seat in the deeply conservative state that opened when Jeff Sessions was appointed US attorney-general.
His victory in many ways resembled the poorly resourced outsider campaign that delivered the White House for Mr Trump. But it also refocused the spotlight on the deep divisions in the Republican party, and sparked speculation of more insurgent primary challenges against incumbent mainstream Republicans in the US capital.
Mr Moore was backed by many of the same populists who had championed Mr Trump, including Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Nigel Farage, the Brexit cheerleader. But most notable was Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist who found himself on the opposite side from Mr Trump, but argued that a loss for Mr Strange would be a victory for the populist president.
“You’re going to see, in state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington . . . New York City and Silicon Valley,” Mr Bannon decreed at Mr Moore’s victory party.
For the anti-establishment wing of the party, the result spurred optimism about efforts to oust mainstream Republicans and weaken Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who Mr Bannon says is undermining Mr Trump’s agenda. Earlier on Tuesday, the establishment suffered a blow when Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said he would not seek re-election next year.
“Corker out. Moore in. Tells you all you really need to know,” Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst, tweeted about the shifting political landscape.
Republican leaders are especially nervous about primary challenges in Arizona, Nevada and Mississippi — particularly as the party fails to leverage its 52-48 Senate majority to pass any significant legislation. They also fret that Mr Moore will force them to answer questions about parts of their past that they want to move beyond.
Charlie Cook, a veteran political analyst, said Mr Moore’s victory was “pretty ominous” for Republicans because it meant that their core voters — who hold the most sway in primary races — were willing to nominate “exotic candidates” who could lose what should be easy races against Democrats.
He said it would also cause headaches because “candidates like Moore will be pushing agendas, bills and amendments that will force Republicans in swing states to cast highly problematic votes . . . that will hurt them back home, either with the Republican base or with independent, swing voters”.
Mr Moore was twice elected as Alabama chief justice, but was censured for bringing God into court. He was fired for refusing to remove a statue monument of the Ten Commandments and again years later for not accepting the US Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. He has also suggested that the 2001 terror attacks were divine retribution for permissive attitudes towards sodomy and abortion.
Speaking outside a voting centre in Blount County, where Mr Trump won 89 per cent of the vote in the 2016 election, Jennifer Bowman, a Republican primary school teacher, said she was appalled at the prospect of the controversial judge serving in Washington, and stressed that “if Mr Moore wins, I’ll be voting Democrat”.
No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Alabama since 1992, but Republicans worry that they will sense blood and inject big money into the race. “A Moore victory would jeopardise the seat in the December general election,” said Scott Reed, the political strategist at the US chamber of commerce, which backed Mr Strange.
Many people were baffled when Mr Trump backed the former energy company lobbyist. The president said he was repaying loyalty — an odd claim given that he conceded he “might be making a mistake” and on Tuesday deleted some tweets endorsing Mr Strange. Some speculated that Mr McConnell convinced him to endorse Big Luther on the basis that the Republicans needed a more reliable majority to prevent his presidency being undermined by the fragmentation of the party.
“I figure he’s got somebody in his ear. It made me scratch my head,” said Jimmy Wright, a neighbour of Mr Moore who voted at Gallant fire station after the judge.
Mr Trump’s failure to sway enough people behind Mr Strange has cast doubt on his influence with his base. But some Moore voters said his endorsement had little bearing on their decision, saying they were voting for a household name who shared their religious views, and that the primary was not a referendum on Mr Trump.
“He believes what we believe, which is Christian values,” said Patsy Feit, a voter in Rainbow City. “This is Roy Moore country . . . He’s been booted out and we vote him right back in.” Mr Moore dismissed the fact that Mr Trump backed his rival, suggesting that he had been misled. “I knew there were some things going on up there that he doesn’t know.”
But he was less forgiving about the idea of working with Mr McConnell, saying he had “no idea” if the Kentucky senator would welcome him to Washington if he beats Mr Jones as expected. Asked whether he would do anything to ease the tension, the loquacious judge was uncharacteristically reticent: “We’ll work that out.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi