Three questions raised by Roy Moore's runoff win

The former state Supreme Court justice's victory in Alabama's GOP runoff is at once a blow to President Trump, who had endorsed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, and also a validation of Trumpian outsider politics.

Marvin Gentry/Reuters
Republican candidate Roy Moore greets supporters at the RSA Activity Center in Montgomery, Ala., Sept. 26, 2017, during the runoff election for the Republican nomination for Alabama's US Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Insurgent Roy Moore’s victory in the Alabama GOP Senate primary on Sept. 26 is a humiliating blow to the Republican establishment and a reminder that unrest at the grassroots remains an electric force in US politics as Washington turns to look toward next year’s mid-term elections.

Mr. Moore, a former state Supreme Court Justice and devout evangelical Christian, easily defeated incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, despite million of dollars in pro-Strange ads financed by a super PAC affiliated with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. President Trump endorsed Senator Strange at Senator McConnell’s urging, and visited Alabama for a rally. It wasn’t enough – the final result was about 55 percent for Moore, 45 percent for his opponent. 

Moore is now the favorite to win the Dec. 12 general election, given that Alabama is a deep-red state. But a victory isn’t a foregone conclusion: He’s a controversial figure whose central political tenet is that modern politics has removed the sovereignty of a Christian God from the US Constitution and the functions of government. He’s been removed from the Supreme Court of Alabama, in essence, twice: once for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the court, and again, following reelection to the post, for opposing legalization of same-sex marriage. 

State conditions may have contributed to Moore’s upset. Strange was appointed to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ seat by a governor who himself was embroiled in a messy relationship scandal. Moore’s long and colorful public career has made him one of the state’s best-known politicians. 

But Moore embraced the role of Trumpian outsider, even though the president endorsed his opponent. He insisted that he supported the president and aimed to Make America Great Again. Former Trump strategist and head of Breitbart Steve Bannon campaigned for Moore. Trump himself seemed of two minds, musing publicly that he might have made a mistake backing Strange.

Given this mix of ingredients, three questions about the result come to mind:

How will Trump interpret Moore's victory?

It’s possible the president will see the result as evidence his personal backing doesn’t have the pull he thought it did. More likely, he’ll view the situation as evidence that McConnell pushed him to endorse the wrong horse. This could mean more tweeted criticism of the GOP congressional leadership and an intensified focus on immigration, national anthem protests, urban crime, and other issues that stir emotions amongst Trump’s base.

Will Moore be a caucus of one? 

Moore is a defiant individualist who, if he’s elected, is unlikely to cooperate with McConnell’s strategies just for the sake of party unity. That could in practice reduce the GOP majority by one. Moore’s victory could also presage other insurgent victories in states where GOP incumbents are vulnerable or retiring, such as Tennessee, Arizona, Nevada, and Mississippi. It’s possible that after the midterms a small Trump Caucus opposed to leadership might emerge.

But if Moore might make McConnell’s life miserable, McConnell can also return the favor. The majority leader determines who gets what office, who gets to speak when, and what panels they sit on.

“If Moore thinks he’s going to come to Washington and be on the Judiciary Committee he’s sadly mistaken,” says Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report. 

What's this mean for tax cuts?

It’s possible that Moore will be Senator Moore in a few months. Given its complexity, the new GOP tax package could still be stuck in the Senate at that point. What’s Moore’s opinion on that – and other aspects of Trump or McConnell’s agendas? Given the narrowness of the GOP majority, that could be important.

Staff writer Francine Kiefer contributed to this report.

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