In the wake of a historic election victory for Democrats in a state they haven’t won in decades, Republicans are trying to figure out just what went wrong. Some of them have already found their scapegoat: former chief strategist to President Donald Trump and current Breitbart editor, Steve Bannon.
While Republican candidate Roy Moore is still considering a recount of the election, Democratic Sen.-elect Doug Jones’s victory over his opponent seems like it may be too much to overturn. Jones won by more than 20,000 votes.
Since Jones is likely going to Washington, Republicans are trying to figure out what went wrong. Many of them are pointing their fingers at Bannon.
“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steve Law, who heads a conservative super PAC called the Senate Leadership Fund.
He went on to add that, “candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” referring to scandals that beleaguered Moore during the campaign, including inappropriate sexual encounters he's accused of having with underage girls 30-40 years ago.
Josh Holmes, who heads a conservative group called Cavalry, also seemed to place the loss on Bannon’s shoulders.
Before we get the results, I'd just like to thank Steve Bannon for showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union and Governor Ivey for the opportunity to make this national embarrassment a reality— Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) December 13, 2017
Not all of the criticism was bitter. Some conservatives who have opposed Trump from the start also weighed in on Bannon’s role in the election, expressing hope that the party can reject the radicalism that Bannon’s wing of the GOP represents.
Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent in the presidential election last fall, warned Republicans that continuing “to appease the populist, nationalist movement of Bannon and Trump” will result in more electoral losses in the future.
The Coalition of the Decent has spoken again. This is a proud night for Alabama and should send a clear message to GOP leadership: Continue to appease the populist, nationalist movement of Bannon and Trump at your peril.— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) December 13, 2017
But does the loss for Republicans rest squarely with Bannon? Perhaps blame makes sense, to some extent. Bannon’s endorsement of Moore in the GOP primary earlier this fall probably helped him to defeat the party-backed Sen. Luther Strange, making the election all-the-more contentious.
Yet elections are not won or lost on singular issues, and a different aspect of this election mattered too: who turned out to vote. It was clear that black voters played an immense role in defeating Moore on Tuesday night, voting overwhelmingly for Jones.
Twenty-eight percent of the electorate on Tuesday night consisted of African-American voters (even though blacks only make up 26 percent of the state’s racial demographics), and nine-out-of-ten who did vote chose Jones over Moore (notably, 97 percent of African-American women voted for Jones, too).
Republicans who want to blame Bannon should also look higher up the food chain; there’s more of a Trump backlash than anything else in the country right now. State legislative seats that were also up for grabs in Florida and New Hampshire on Tuesday night also flipped from Republican to Democratic Party control, a trend that is happening in many other places since Trump took office.
Placing some of the blame on right-wing nationalists like Steve Bannon is an easy cop-out for many Republicans to suggest. And in some ways they’re right; voters across the country are rejecting the mean-spirited nationalist message that Bannon and others are promoting.
Bannon, however, is a symptom of a greater disease for the party, not just its source. The real issue for Republicans looking to stave off any more electoral defeats currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It was Trump, after all, who made a push for Moore in the final stretch of the race, not Bannon. The GOP has a bigger problem on its hands than the ousted strategist, and it is still living in the White House.