When I called David French, he sounded relieved. “This was a big moment for Alabama conservatives,” he told me. “While I’m still chagrined that [Moore] won the primary, Alabama conservatives essentially looked at this race and said, ‘Not in our name. We do have standards, and this man does not meet them.’”
French is a native of Alabama and a senior writer for the National Review, and has written extensively on Roy Moore’s campaign for the Senate, including “The Comprehensive Case against Roy Moore.” He and other conservatives, from Moore’s primary opponent, Luther Strange to Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, greeted Moore’s stunning loss to Doug Jones with, if not happiness, at least a sigh of relief.
In the ongoing battle between former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and “establishment” Republicans, it appears the establishment may have won the day. The question is now whether they’ll be able to beat back primary challenges from Bannon and others who want to contest the very identity of the Republican Party in 2018, challengers who will follow a populist, nativist model despite Moore’s devastating loss.
“Grifters, frauds, cranks, and fools”
To French, a great deal of that headache is on Steve Bannon himself and his purported political “genius”: running extremist candidates on a supposedly Trumpian platform.
“Both of our great political parties accumulate around them more than their share of grifters, frauds, cranks, and fools,” he told me.
“What you began to see emerging was Bannon trying to form a coalition of grifters, frauds, cranks, and fools and trying to form some sort of anti-establishment movement around these people,” French said. “If there’s one lesson Republicans should take away from this, it’s that is exactly the formula that causes you to lose races that you would have never, ever thought were possible to lose.”
As libertarian pundit Megan McArdle wrote Wednesday, Moore’s loss was akin to “losing an election where the electorate consists of your mother.”
Fox News contributor and Townhall.com political editor Guy Benson agrees, and added that by running Roy Moore, Republicans virtually guaranteed a loss among millennial conservatives in Alabama — a difficult feat in one of the reddest states in America, where even young people are likely to vote Republican.
Benson noted that then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney won young voters in Alabama in 2012 by about four points. “Roy Moore got absolutely crushed among young voters last night,” he said, “because even younger, strong, ruby-red conservatives do not want anything to do with a figure like Roy Moore.”
Benson added, “He is an actual, unrepentant, unreformed bigot.”
To Bannon, his supporters are the real base of the party
But if you were a Roy Moore supporter, the voices of French and Benson are the voices of establishment Republicans — the real reason for Moore’s loss. And those who feel this way make up a significant proportion of Republican primary voters.
This morning, Breitbart published a roundup of anti-Moore GOP figures discussing Jones’ victory entitled “Establishment Republicans Cheer Roy Moore’s Loss in Alabama.” On the site’s main page, the website has highlighted an Ann Coulter piece that argues that the loss in Alabama was the fault of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and establishment conservatives, not Bannon.
It’s becoming clear, however, that Bannon’s political power might be more limited than expected. Bannon’s chosen candidates in Wisconsin, Indiana, and now Alabama have all lost winnable races. (One of those candidates, Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin, campaigned with Bannon for Moore despite being closely aligned with white-supremacist figures of the alt-right.)
But as French told me, Bannon is “a public figure with a platform that reaches millions of people, and will have more than enough opportunity over the coming days, weeks and months to spin that audience in a way that suits him.” That means that for Breitbart readers — many of whom support Donald Trump over the Republican Party at large — the blame will go on Mitch McConnell.
And a large number of Alabama Republicans did, in fact, vote for Roy Moore, even those who believed the disturbing allegations against him. “There is a troubling core of Alabama voters who voted for Moore enthusiastically, with full knowledge of his character and the claims against him,” French said. “I have no idea how big that base is, but they certainly exist, and they’ll do their part to poison GOP politics for years to come.
But for many conservatives, Bannon is now persona non grata. Going forward, Benson told me that the Breitbart executive chair’s strategy of choosing “the most reckless, insane anti-establishment brawler he can find” to run on the GOP ticket in races across the country has been proven a failure.
“His political judgment should be put in serious question,” Benson said. “He just cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama, which is almost impossible to lose.”
“Take a big bow, Steve Bannon,” he added. “You’ve done the impossible.”