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George Will on Alabama and GOP Politics

ALGOPlogoGeorge Will’s latest WaPo column looks to Alabama to discuss the contemporary Republican Party, The GOP has become the party of the grotesque:

Southern Gothic is a literary genre and, occasionally, a political style that, like the genre, blends strangeness and irony. Consider the current primary campaign to pick the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. It illuminates, however, not a regional peculiarity but a national perversity, that of the Republican Party.

As the piece notes, there is currently a fiercely contested primary contest in the state to determine who the GOP nominee will be in the election to replace Jeff Sessions as Alabama’s junior Senator.   That contest not only has a number of Alabama-centric issues (as one would expect) but also various elements related to broader national GOP story lines.  At a minimum there is a weird tension in the race created by the President because of his critiques of AG Sessions.  A few weeks ago, the race was about extolling Sessions and Trump, but then Trump called Sessions weak and beleaguered, thus muddying the politics waters a tad.

In a field of nine Republicans, the ones who matter are sitting (appointed) Senator Luther Strange, twice removed Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore and US Representative (AL05) Mo Brooks.  A run-off between two of these individuals is the inevitable outcome of the August 15th primary vote.

Will correctly notes that the campaign has mostly been Strange attacking Brooks (and that the attacks are mostly based on what Brooks said about Trump):

Yet Brooks is the focus of ferocious attacks on behalf of Strange, who ignores Moore. The attacks are financed by a Washington-based political action committee aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). This Washington Republican establishment strenuously tried but fortunately failed to defeat now-Sens. Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse, of Florida and Nebraska, respectively, in their 2010 and 2014 primaries. (The Rubio opponent the PAC favored is now a Democratic congressman.) The attacks stress some anti-Trump statements Brooks made while chairman of Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign in Alabama. For example, Brooks criticized Trump’s “serial adultery,” about which Trump has boasted. The PAC identifies Brooks, a conservative stalwart of the House Freedom Caucus, as an ally of Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Another ad uses Brooks’s support for Congress replacing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force with an updated one, and his opposition to interventions in Libya and Syria, to suggest that Brooks supports the Islamic State.

Brooks contributed financially to Trump’s general-election effort and has named his campaign bus the “Drain the Swamp Express.” He says he supports Trump’s “agenda,” including potentially its most consequential item — ending Senate filibuster rules that enable 41 senators to stymie 59. Strange sides with McConnell against Trump in supporting current rules. Yet the PAC’s theme is that Brooks’s support of Trump is insufficiently ardent. Such ardor is becoming the party’s sovereign litmus test.

That last point is key.  Despite some talk about Trump being separated from the GOP, the reality continues to seem to be that Trump is very much shaping the party at the moment.

Will concludes:

But, realistically, Alabama’s primary says more about Republicans than about this region. A Michigan poll shows rocker-cum-rapper Kid Rock a strong potential Republican Senate candidate against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. Rock says Democrats are “shattin’ in their pantaloons” because if he runs it will be “game on mthrfkers.”

Is this Northern Gothic? No, it is Republican Gothic, the grotesque becoming normal in a national party whose dishonest and, one hopes, futile assault on Brooks is shredding the remnants of its dignity.

Without commenting on Will’s preferences in the GOP nomination race, I have to agree with his overall assessment of the current state of the party.

I think Will is wrong on one key point, however:

In one recent poll, the three candidates are polling in the 20s. Moore is leading; the PAC’s attacks are driving some Brooks voters to Moore. Among voters who say they are familiar with all three, Strange is third. A runoff seems certain, and if Moore (sometimes called ”the Ayatollah of Alabama”) is in it and wins, a Democrat could win the Dec. 12 general election.

I cannot see a scenario in which a Democrat wins this seat.  Moore has his detractors, but the state is extremely red and the Democratic candidate pool is extremely weak. If Moore is nominated, I see him winning the special election easily.

Here’s the visual from the column:

Will Kid Rock

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    Roy Moore, the perpetual floater in the toilet bowl that is the Arkansas GOP. So much fail despite so much winning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  2. James in Bremerton says:

    The GOP has come to the end of its road, as constructed. Gaining and then failing utterly to wield near total power confirms what was known all along: the GOP’s ideas do not work, and never have. Nor can they possibly appeal to the present. They have relied on a fact-optional ideology as Moore’s Law has tightened its grip, and everything anyone says is now debunkable in 3.5 seconds from the palm of your hand anywhere in the world.Their collective failure in the last six months has been just jaw-dropping.

    The only thing preventing Democrats from seizing the moment is their pattern of voting, particularly in mid-term elections. You still have to show up, it turns out.

    Alabama remains the poster child for GOP dysfunction, the Crazy Uncle state we’d just as soon only invite downstairs at Christmas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  3. teve tory says:

    But, realistically, Alabama’s primary says more about Republicans than about this region. A Michigan poll shows rocker-cum-rapper Kid Rock a strong potential Republican Senate candidate against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. Rock says Democrats are “shattin’ in their pantaloons” because if he runs it will be “game on mthrfkers.”

    Is this Northern Gothic? No, it is Republican Gothic, the grotesque becoming normal in a national party whose dishonest and, one hopes, futile assault on Brooks is shredding the remnants of its dignity.

    Tyrell seemed to be enthused about this candidate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. t says:

    @teve tory:

    Tyrell seemed to be enthused about this candidate

    give me kid rock over strange, moore or brooks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Gustopher says:

    @James in Bremerton:

    They have relied on a fact-optional ideology as Moore’s Law has tightened its grip, and everything anyone says is now debunkable in 3.5 seconds from the palm of your hand anywhere in the world.Their collective failure in the last six months has been just jaw-dropping

    Except, we live in a post-fact world, where many of the electorate tunes into media that provide alternative facts that better match their worldview. Trump created a million jobs, those dastardly Demoncrats foiled the will of the majority to repeal and replace Obamacare but we’ll get there soon, the real story is the leaks, everyone meets with Russians it’s no big deal, Lock Her Up, white people are being persecuted, etc.

    Failure doesn’t matter if no one who wanted success is willing to call it failure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. al-Ameda says:

    Judge Roy Moore, the gift that keeps on giving ….

    All of this brings to mind a long ago and far away comment, in 1970, by Nebraska Republican Senator Roman Hruska, who supported Nixon’s nomination of Florida Judge Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court. Liberals contended that Carswell was mediocre, therefore unqualified to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

    Senator Hruska addressed the Senate and, in support of Carswell, he questioned why mediocrity should be disqualifying. His words:

    ‘Even if he were mediocre there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

    That’s where GOP politics are today, particularly in the Trump and Tea base. There is the latent feeling that the ‘smart people’ have sold them out and it’s now time for those who sneer at people in the Northeast on on the West Coast to have their chance.

    Though they deny it, it’s very Republican: both Identity Politics and Class Warfare.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  7. de stijl says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Idiocracy was prescient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. al-Ameda says:

    @de stijl:

    Idiocracy was prescient.

    Yes he was.

    Mike Judge might be our best observer of contemporary America. His television shows – Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Silicon Valley – show us, by way of dark humor, just how dysfunctional and self-destructive we are. His movie, Idiocracy, ran it all out in the extreme, a dystopian future where America is run by dysfunctional idiots and morons.

    It seems that America is sampling the idiocracy way right now – we’ve gone Beta for the time being.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Just when you think they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, the Republicans prove time and again that the barrel is deeper still.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Kylopod says:

    @al-Ameda:

    We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

    Of course, the fact that all three of those justices were Jews, and three of the five Jews ever appointed to the Court by that time, was just a coincidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. teve tory says:

    give me kid rock over strange, moore or brooks.

    “I’d rather have influenza than HIV, Hepatitis B, or chikungunya”

    😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. dennis says:

    @Argon:

    You mean Alabama, right? Unless there’s some AL-AR nexus I’m not aware if …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. James in Bremerton says:

    @Gustopher: “Except, we live in a post-fact world”

    That statement doesn’t make any sense. Facts haven’t gone anywhere. It merely gives permission for those who don’t like facts to keep throwing sand in the air. It’s an admission of defeat, and offers nothing for the future.

    ” electorate tunes into media ”

    This assumes there is only one “media,” and this is not demonstrable. News is now delivered through thousands of sites of all stripes. The days of being spoon-fed news by talking heads is dying. Whatever conclusion you come to about the news, it cannot help but come from many sources.

    Democrats lost in 2016 because they did not turn out to vote, end of story. No “biased” news organization did that. And given their voting patterns in mid-terms, even with a man-baby as “president,” Democrats are just as likely to stay home in 2018.

    Lots of complaining. Not enough community organizing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Facebones says:

    @Argon: It would be fitting if that disgraced jurist won the senate seat. Sessions only ran for office after the Senate – in 1986 – decided he was too racist. Only too perfect if a judge twice removed for ignoring court orders should get it now.

    I know I’m only a costal liberal elite, but god damn, Alabama! Cant you find anyone better?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. teve tory says:

    This assumes there is only one “media,” and this is not demonstrable.

    Media is the plural of medium. By definition there are more than one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. MBunge says:

    If the Republican Party is grotesque, it is because people like George Will deformed it. All the things that horrify Will about today’s GOP are almost direct responses to the fallacies, fanaticism and failures of Will and people like him. They spewed lies and nonsense for decades and now act like innocent bystanders when it all comes crashing down.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

  17. DrDaveT says:

    @James in Bremerton:

    [“We live in a post-fact world”] doesn’t make any sense. Facts haven’t gone anywhere.

    I think you’re underestimating the problem, badly.

    Not only have actual facts been randomly shuffled with “alternative facts” in the minds of the public, more importantly the entire notion that it matters what is true has been devalued. In the greatest irony of the century to date, the party that vilified Post-Modernism most vehemently has adopted its core principles. To the GOP, scientific findings are expressions of politics, empirical data are always ‘skewed’, and truth itself is a social construct.

    It doesn’t matter what facts you have if the battle is not being decided by facts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT:

    In the greatest irony of the century to date, the party that vilified Post-Modernism most vehemently has adopted its core principles.

    This is something that has been going on for years. In 2009, in a column heaping effusive praise on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer commented–apparently without any intended irony–that the network “created an alternate reality.”

    And it really goes back much farther than that. One of the oldest precursors, I believe, was the attack on the teaching of evolution in public schools. Originally fundamentalists were trying to ban evolution outright, but when the courts made that untenable they shifted their strategy to advocating “equal time” for evolution and creationism. This ended up creating tension with their own beliefs. Part of their critique of evolution has always been that it undermined faith in an absolute, unchanging truth and moral order. But now they were increasingly presenting themselves as beleaguered minorities standing up to a rigid orthodoxy. In their bid for legitimacy they began reaching for many of the frames favored by academic leftists. Leading ID proponent Phillip E. Johnson, himself a professor at Berkeley, once remarked, after meeting with a group of professors, “I told them I was postmodernist and deconstructionist just like them, but aiming at a slightly different target.”

    Creationism itself didn’t become part of the GOP until the rise of the Christian Right. But it was merely one strand of alternative reality that would infiltrate the party from the 1980s forward. The GOP would soon embrace, more or less, creationist economics and creationist climatology. (It’s notable that elites like Krauthammer and George Will, who have nothing but contempt for actual creationists, attack climate change using argumentation that would make Duane Gish proud.) One way or another, their increasing reception to fringe beliefs encouraged hostility toward the intellectual and academic mainstream.

    People tend to locate the GOP base’s descent into unreality as beginning with the rise of talk radio and Fox News, but in a sense those were simply taking advantage of what was already occurring. The need for alternative sources arose from their embrace of alternative facts, and whether they consciously realized it or not, the concept of objective truth in their worldview was being whittled away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod

    Re: Brandeis, et al.

    So Jews are good at lawyering, haggling, finance, running Hollywood, secretly controlling world governments, and punching way above their weight in the acting game.

    Is there anything they’re not good at? Man, I should convert.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. de stijl says:

    @de stijl

    Plus curing meats*.

    (*Some restrictions apply.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. teve tory says:

    @Kylopod: Jesus, dude, you follow the ID/Creationists as much as I do. From the first sentence I was anticipating the Phillip Johnson line.

    Indeed, the GOP’s extreme version of a postmodern science-is-not truth-but-an-expression-of-power claim w/r/t climate, pollution, etc, would make gay frenchmen proud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. teve tory says:

    conservative writer (who possesses a brain, therefore soon to be denounced as RINO) Max Boot:

    Not only is it a toxic workplace where the harassment of women is rampant; it is also a no-fact zone. The Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact found that nearly 60 percent of the statements it checked on Fox News were either mostly or entirely false. Another 19 percent were only half true. Only Fox News viewers are likely to believe that climate change is a hoax, that there is a “war on Christmas,” that Obamacare would create “death panels,” that there is an epidemic of crime committed by immigrants (they actually have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans), that President Barack Obama forged his birth certificate and wiretapped Trump with the aid of Britain’s signals intelligence agency, and that the accusations bedeviling Trump are a product of “Russophobia.” FNC might as well stand for Fake News Channel, and its myths have had a pernicious, indeed debilitating, effect on U.S. politics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: It reminds me of the old joke–

    Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?”

    “On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @de stijl:

    We also offer dental :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0