John Kass: Alabama reaffirms that character still counts in politics

Democrat Doug Jones, whose uphill bid for U.S. Senate gathered strength when Republican Roy Moore was hit with charges of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, won Alabama’s special election Tuesday.

Now that deep-red Alabama has elected pro-abortion Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate -- defeating teen-trolling Republican Roy Moore -- the air is full of severed political scalps.

The scalp-waving thing is expected after such a historic defeat. And a Republican losing to a pro-abortion Democrat in Alabama is historic indeed.


But the main takeaway here is that Alabama is a conservative Republican state. And many conservatives just couldn't vote for Mr. Moore with those questions about his character.

Much of the scalp-waving is ferocious and somewhat entertaining, especially the naked, tribal glee of the elites in the Democratic Media Complex, reveling over President Donald Trump's abject defeat.


Mr. Trump twice lost in Alabama, first backing the failed and aptly named Luther Strange, and then Mr. Moore, the alleged onetime predator of teenage girls. Now the president must curry favor with anti-Trump Republicans in the Senate.

Look up and see those scalps being shaken in angry tribal fists. There's that thick shag of Moore supporter and Republican populist Steve Bannon, and the thin orange locks of Mr. Trump, who listened to Mr. Bannon and endorsed Mr. Moore in the final days.

And somewhere, the thin, dry pate of establishment GOP Senate boss Mitch McConnell is up on a pointed stick.

It was Mr. McConnell who set this debacle in motion, originally backing a pliant minion, the aforementioned Mr. Strange, who was rejected in the Alabama GOP Senate primary.


So Mr. McConnell's wispy hairs belong up there too, along with the other Republican totems, waving in the breeze.

While scalp-waving is fun, it is agenda-driven and often obscures reality. But if there's one thing that should come out of Alabamaunobscured, it's this: Conservative Alabama Republicans, routinely ridiculed by coastal media elites as deplorable, deserve the admiration and praise of the nation. Because enough of them saw who Mr. Moore really was, and either stayed away from the polls or voted for another candidate.

Mr. Jones ran a credible campaign that used the allegations of sexual predation againstMr. Moore.

But Mr. Jones also used Mr. Moore's statements against him, such as Mr. Moore's ridiculous notion that slavery helped keep black families intact. Such idiocy clearly boosted turnout among traditional Democratic groups, particularly black voters.

And suburban women, and younger, college-educated suburban evangelical Christians, were turned off by Mr. Moore. That's what should worry the national GOP: Suburban women and the apparent generational divide among evangelicals.

Still, there are enough Alabama Republicans to have voted Mr. Moore in, if only to protect conservative GOP policy goals in the Senate, including tax cuts and the future of the Supreme Court. It was this utilitarian argument for Mr. Moore that was fronted by Messrs. Trump and Bannon. That argument was rejected.

Placing policy over character isn't anything new. Like postelection scalp-waving and presidential tweets, it's a part of today's politics.

Democrats are seemingly all about character now, aren't they? They're awash in moral righteousness when it comes to alleged pawing of women. But for decades, character wasn't worth two dried figs to them.

It was policy and power that mattered, and Democrats metaphorically fell on their knees before the Clintons, year after year. If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, there wouldn't be any "reckoning" over Bill.

But it's all different now, isn't it? And all this newfound moral rectitude, the kind loudly expressed by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand -- until quite recently a shameless Bill Clinton toady without peer -- should be obvious to those who can see.

It is cynical positioning before the 2018 midterm elections, because it's all about using allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Trump. But who says cynical attacks don't work? Ask the president about Sen. Ted Cruz's father.

In Alabama, enough conservatives decided they just couldn't go for Mr. Moore, despite the Trump pleas, despite policy implications of the election for the Senate, with its razor-thin GOP majority.

So they stayed home and didn't vote. Or they voted for the write-in protest candidate. And some voted for Mr. Jones.

Not enough came out for Mr. Moore. And that was the difference.

If U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks had been the Republican candidate, there wouldn't have been a contest. He'd be Alabama senator-elect today.

But Mr. Brooks, a conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus, wasn't to Mitch McConnell's liking. Mr. McConnell likes his Republicans without much of a backbone.

Mr. Brooks on Wednesday announced he has prostate cancer.

"In retrospect, and paradoxically, losing the Senate race may have saved my life. Yes, God does work in mysterious ways," Mr. Brooks said.

Mr. McConnell's ways are not mysterious. He thought Strange would defeat Mr. Moore. He is not infallible.

There are many ways to parse election returns to prove your politics. But in such a red state as Alabama, it's obvious that many Republicans just didn't believe Mr. Moore's denials.

How red is Alabama? The former senator, now Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions, ran unopposed in 2014.

Alabama hasn't had a Democratic senator for a quarter-century. In most other years, a Democrat couldn't hope to win a Senate seat.

That's how red it is.

But this year, enough conservatives turned away from their party to make the critical difference. It wasn't a policy election. It was a character election.

Now Mr. Moore is free to ride his horse and disappear from public view.

And the people of Alabama have proved that in some places, character still counts after all.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.

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