President Donald Trump would like you to believe otherwise, but the outcome of Tuesday’s special election in Alabama, where Democratic candidate Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore isn't just an isolated fluke, but a sign of the country's radically-shifting political climate.
Tweeting on Wednesday morning, Trump suggested that his original endorsement of current Sen. Luther Strange was due to his belief that Moore couldn’t win the election against Jones, and placed blame on Moore for his own defeat.
The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
If last night’s election proved anything, it proved that we need to put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
At first glance, that sort of rationale makes sense if you don’t think about it too hard. Had Strange won the primary election, it’s unclear whether Jones could have defeated him or not.
But that insinuation ignores many broader points, including that Trump won Alabama by huge margins last November. Trump easily defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state by almost a 30-point margin. That his preferred candidate in the special election ended up losing is not a positive sign for the Trump brand in the Heart of Dixie.
Beyond that, there are indications that it wasn’t just Moore’s scandals, involving inappropriate relationships with underage girls 30-40 years ago, that led to this win for Jones. Exit polling data demonstrates that, while that issue was an important component in people’s votes, it wasn’t the sole issue they considered when casting their ballot.
Only 7 percent of voters said it was that issue alone that decided who they would support, while 34 percent said it was one of many issues they considered. Fifty-four percent of voters said it was a minor factor or not a factor at all when it came to their preferred choice.
More polling data from voters shows another trend that Trump should be concerned over. While he won in 2016 by huge margins, his approval rating in the state has taken a significant dive since. Voters on Tuesday were split, with 48 percent approving his job as president so far, and 48 percent saying he was doing a bad job.
If this was an election that was supposed to be in support of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda — which, he tweeted that it was — then clearly the people of Alabama were not for it.
That’s a big deal for a deeply red state like Alabama, but is it translating elsewhere? You bet.
Last month, elections in Virginia and New Jersey indicated that Democrats could win in places where they ordinarily wouldn’t even try before. In one instance, a transgender woman defeated the author of a restrictive anti-trans bathroom bill, and in another, a supporter of reasonable gun control legislation defeated an NRA-backed lawmaker.
This past Tuesday’s election results — in races that occurred outside of Alabama — further supports this trend. State legislative races in Florida and New Hampshire saw seats flip that were traditional Republican strongholds.
That's part of a larger pattern that's happened throughout the country this year; in total, there have been 27 open-seat elections in state legislative seats previously held by Republicans across the nation since Trump became president. Democrats have managed to flip around 30 percent of those seats, an unbelievable feat.
So what’s leading this change? Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of measures put forward by the Trump administration, including Trump's push to give tax breaks to the wealthiest, as well as his goal to end the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But New York Times Op-Ed columnist Ross Douthat (a conservative voice for the publication) makes another suggestion worth paying attention to, writing that, there is "a rejection of the whole Trumpian mode of politics." Sure, Moore’s politics (and scandals) mattered, but when you push candidates with similar nationalistic tendencies that this current president has, Democratic bloc voters show up in droves, Douthat suggests, resulting in losses where you’re accustomed to a “sure thing” victory.
The rejection of Trumpism seems to be translating to lawmakers in Congress, too. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan currently has the lowest approval rating he’s ever had since assuming the top spot in Congress, likely due to his association with Trump. And polls asking Americans who they want to run Congress have shifted significantly, favoring Democrats to do so in 2018 by the widest margin since 2006.
Each election has its own specific issues and electorate’s preferences, and reading into what happened in one race doesn’t mean it will necessarily translate into wins for one party or the other down the road. But there’s a clear trend taking shape across this country that'd be foolish to ignore.
Progressive candidates are winning races they would have previously been ridiculed for even running in the past. The Moore loss in Alabama is part of a larger pattern, indicative of a rejection of Trumpism by-and-large. The midterm races are not that far off, and it'll be interesting to see if this trend continues to that point — or beyond.