President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon have to be hating on Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby around now. Because Shelby just humiliated them on the national stage.
This could be the start of something good for the Republican Party.
Shelby went on CNN on Sunday to urge fellow Alabama Republicans to reject Trump’s and Bannon’s candidate, Republican Roy Moore, in Tuesday’s special U.S. Senate election. Moore has been credibly accused of sexually molesting underage girls. Shelby said he had written in a candidate instead of voting for Moore and encouraged other Republicans to do the same.
Democrat Doug Jones won the race with 49.9 percent of the vote, a tenth of a point short of a majority. Moore got 48.4 percent; write-ins 1.7.
Like I said, Trump and Bannon have to be hating Shelby around now.
Jones ran a solid campaign. He may or may not have won without Shelby’s pronouncement, which surely kept some Republicans home as well. The real blow dealt by Shelby to the Trump-Bannon wing of the GOP was of the moral kind.
Shelby is no snowflake, in populist parlance. He’s one of the most rock-ribbed conservative senators in America, and he just looked Trump’s base straight in the eye and told them that what Trump was asking of them was wrong.
Many of them listened. That’s a big deal.
Shelby is not alone. He joins a growing list of Republican senators willing to stand up to Trump’s and Bannon’s repugnant style of politics — such as Sens. Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Bob Corker, Susan Collins and Mike Lee. But Tuesday marks the biggest loss to date for Trump and Bannon. It will embolden more Republicans to grow a spine.
The other big loser on Tuesday was the Republican National Committee, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald J. Trump Inc. Its decision to go all-in for Moore in the closing days of the race was disgraceful. It now owns it. (The National Republican Senate Committee, in contrast, refused to back Moore.) Those in leadership positions at the RNC need to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.
Bannon’s “60 Minutes” interview in September irrepressibly springs to mind following Moore’s loss. In that interview, Bannon declared his “litmus test” for membership in Trump’s new Republican Party. Those who criticized Trump for his boastful admission of sexual assault on an “Access Hollywood” audio tape were out. Those who stuck with Trump were to be the cornerstone of the party he envisioned.
The interview was remarkable for something else, too: It was conducted by Charlie Rose, who would be dismissed by CBS News two months later for his own sexual improprieties. Go figure, as they say.
Something about Trump has gnawed at me for the past two years. Something deep and fundamental that I could never quite put my finger on. The Alabama Senate race mercifully unearthed it.
It’s about spirituality. Those who have it hold an innate belief that if you do the right thing everything will pretty much turn out OK. Trump doesn’t lead his life that way. He never has. That takes my breath away.
The great Republican abolitionist Frederick Douglass declared in an August 1852 speech that, “One and God make a majority.” In Alabama, Trump, Bannon and the RNC declared that a majority U.S. Senate is of greater value than morality itself.
The contrast marks the battle line in the approaching Republican civil war.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.