Some Thoughts on Today’s AL Senate Primary Run-Off

Some quick thoughts on Moore v. Strange.

MooreThere are a lot of attempts to read massive meaning into today’s run-off primary in Alabama (I just heard such a story on this morning’s Morning Edition).

I think that people are reading too much into this situation as it pertains to Trump and his political influence.  It also assumes too much in the way of this being a reflection of national politics.

I don’t have time for a well developed post, so here are some key bullets:

  • While it is true that the the two candidates, former (because he was removed) Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore and sitting Senator (appointed to fill the Sessions seat) Luther Strange, have important differences, let’s not forget that they are hardly polar opposites, politically speaking.  More to the point:  once in Washington* they are likely to have nearly identical voting records.  Moore will simply be more vocal than Strange and be more likely to express his own personal, and sometimes peculiar, ideology.
  • Trump picking Strange was logical insofar as why not pick the sitting Senator who had voted as Trump needed him to vote? Plus, history dictates that the appointee in these situations tends to have the inside track.
  • Timing was key.  Yes, Strange is McConnell’s choice and Trump has been publicly feuding with McConnell.  However, Trump endorsed Strange just before the anti-Mitch tweetstorm.  Had Trump gotten upset about with Mitch a little earlier, who knows if Trump would have endorsed Strange.
  • Trump’s continued dedication to Strange is more about winning than it is about any grand plan.
  • Strange’s problems are not so much because of a clear ideological fight within the GOP that has national implications, it is because he was appointed by Governor Bentley, whom many think Strange should have been more zealously investigating as the then Attorney General of Alabama.  There was more than a whiff of quid pro quo at the time of appointment, including an initial decision to not have a special election, but to let the term play out.  Bentley later plead to some minor crimes and resigned to avoid more serious prosecution.  These are the things that damaged Strange within Alabama politics.
  • Moore is really the more Trumpian of the two candidates and had Trump really thought all of this through, he might have endorsed Moore.   So while it is true that Trump wants Strange to win so he can say he influenced the election, the reality is is that Moore really is more representative of the kind of politics that helped Trump win the GOP nomination, and the electoral college, in 2016.
  • Moore’s more recent signature issue was opposing same sex marriage.  This resonates with a large section of the GOP base, especially in the socially conservative deep south.  Note, too, while he was removed from the bench twice, both times it was in defiance of the federal government.  Defying the feds still have a lot of resonance in Alabama and it fits perfectly with the whole “drain the swamp” business. (I think recent GOP base concern about trans rigths elevates Moore as well because of the SSM issue).

So, in short, three things to remember:

  1.  Despite the drama, these are just two slightly different flavors of ice cream.  This is not some stark ideological choice.
  2.  A lot of Moore’s advantage over Strange is based in state GOP politics, so trying to extrapolate this out to some national party significance seems misguided to me.
  3. While a Strange win would be an ego boost to Trump, and give him some cache for future campaigns in terms of proving he can bring the vote, a Moore win is actually more ideologically and temperamentally in line with Trumpism, so it is rather hard to see that as a real loss. This part does matter to Trump, as he would like to show that he can bring out voters by making an endorsement and an appearance (but that really has little to do with how a Senator Strange behaves v. a Senator Moore).

The most important thing to remember:  while this race likely does choose the next Senator from Alabama, it is still an intra-party competition and we should not get carried away making it sound like there is some gulf of a difference between these two candidates.

The fact that Trump didn’t stay out of the endorsement game until he could back the right candidate from his POV is just an example of his lack of experience in politics.  Had he held back and waited to endorse, the stories today would have been about how Trump was transforming the party in his image (and being able to take credit for motivating voters since at the moment that seems the likely outcome).

The reality of both a likely Trump “loss” or an alt-reality in which he can claim Moore for his own is that either narrative over-sells Trump’s importance in this race and undersells the local politics of it all.


*There is still a general election to be had versus Democratic nominee Doug Jones.  I do not think he has a chance, so for all practical purposes today’s run-off likely is choosing the junior Senator from Alabama.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2017, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. 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


  1. The ideological differences between Strange and Moore aren’t vast, of course, but Moore represents something much, much worse than his opponent, which is why I’d vote for Strange today were I a voter in Alabama.

  2. CSK says:

    Ask any Trumpkin and he or she will tell you that Trump is only pretending to support Strange. He’s really behind Moore, but he’s feigning support for Strange as a move in some 64-dimension chess game that only Trump and the Trumpkins are smart enough to understand.

    They have to tell themselves this. It’s the only way they can reconcile their support for Trump with their support for Moore.

    Moore reminds me of Todd “No Woman Ever Got Pregnant After being Raped” Akin, except Moore’s going to win.

  3. @Doug Mataconis: I concur, but what I am really writing about here is the media narrative.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Moore is a nasty, bigoted creep. Republicans in Alabama are nasty, bigoted creeps. Strange is also awful, but nowadays Republicans choose their candidates by how unqualified and appalling they are and Moore is the bigger POS. He’ll win easily.

  5. Pete S says:

    I would like to think if I were an Alabama Republican, and I realized that Strange and Moore were considered the 2 BEST choices to represent my wishes, I would move. But if I had that kind of self-awareness I probably would not an Alabama Republican.

  6. Moore is really the more Trumpian of the two candidates and had Trump really thought all of this through, he might have endorsed Moore.

    But does Trump want a Trumpian person, or does he want a person that loyally does whatever Trump says?

    If Moore wins the primary and the general election, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for President in 2020, even if Trump runs for re-election.

  7. Jc says:

    Moore Strange….I cannot think of a better combination of names to describe the Trump era.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    had Trump really thought all of this through […]

    Stop it, Steven — you’re killing me. Need to breathe…

  9. MBunge says:

    Didn’t Trump endorse Strange because he was ASKED to endorse Strange by GOP-types who told him supporting ANYONE but an incumbent in a primary fight would poison his relations with Congress forever?


  10. CSK says:

    Well, Moore took it, as expected, 56-44.

  11. Franklin says:

    @John E. Bredehoft: Even in an era where Trump has won the Presidency, I think Moore would be making a mistake thinking he had much support outside of Alabama.

  12. CSK says:

    Trump’s busy deleting all his Tweets supporting Strange. Apparently he though no one would notice.