Political pundits and talking heads woke up this morning acting like Christmas had come early. Flipping through various cable news networks, you’d think that President Donald Trump had personally lost an election last night.
“This is an outright rebuke of Trumpism” says MSNBC. “Embarrassing loss for the president” says CNN. But those are just talking points. The reality of last night’s special election in Alabama has less to do with Trump than it does the Civil War that has been brewing within the GOP since the last Republican primary. If anything, Doug Jones’ win over Judge Moore is a sign that “draining the swamp” is easier said than done.
Sure, Roy Moore was a flawed candidate. Allegations of sexual misconduct toward fourteen year old girls have never bolstered anyone’s chances of being elected. But those allegations have yet to be substantiated, so we can’t really look to them for a definitive take on yesterday’s vote. What we can examine is the divide that happened within the Republican party leading up to the vote.
The president opposed Mr. Moore in the primary, initially backing candidate Luther Strange. His former advisor (and head of breitbart.com) Steve Bannon seemed all in with Moore from the beginning. So if anything, the election results reflect more on Bannon than Trump. And this is where the talking heads seem to be missing the point.
Steve Bannon has publicly criticized establishment Republicans for more than a year. And senate leader Mitch McConnell has been his target of choice, with Bannon openly challenging the senator over the past few months, effectively cutting the GOP in half since Trump’s inauguration. This “us versus them” strategy is why Jones won this election. You see, Jones only won by 1.5% while 1.7% of disenfranchised Republicans chose to write in a candidate of their choice. And the pundits can say that the black vote put Doug Jones over the top, but truth be told, it was white Republicans who handed the Democratic long shot this victory.
The #metoo culture played a major role in this election. But an even bigger role was played by establishment Republicans, looking to keep fringe elements of the party from disrupting the status quo. This wasn’t about Trump vs. Elizabeth Warren. It was about Bannon vs. McConnell. And Bannon lost. What that means to the 2018 midterm elections remains to be seen. But what it means in the short term, is that the swamp is a force to be reckoned with. And that change is a slow moving beast, not easily instilled overnight.
The real fight hasn’t yet happened. But when it does, it will not be between president Trump and the Democrats. This fight will be between the establishment Republicans and their little brothers; McConnell vs. Bannon. Outsiders versus the status quo. And I’d pay more to see that than any pay-per-view contest.