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William Rivers Pitt | Stars Fell on Alabama: The Beautiful Defeat of Roy Moore

If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones celebrates his victory over Judge Roy Moore at the Sheraton in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

My heart beat just like a hammer
Arms wound around you tight
While stars fell on Alabama
Last night …

—”Stars Fell on Alabama,” Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish, 1934

Roy Moore got beat in Alabama. Roy Moore got beat by Alabama. Roy Moore got beat.

It’s not that I can’t believe it. The AP called it for Doug Jones, then Fox, then The New York Times, then NBC, then everyone. It happened in color and with the volume all the way up. I saw it. I just can’t believe it.

Jones is now the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in more than 20 years, and the first Democrat to win any statewide office in Alabama since Jim Folsom became Lt. Governor in 2006. The last Alabama Senate race that was this close was in 1986, when now-GOP Sen. Richard Shelby first won the office as a Democrat himself. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the state by 30 points.

Last night, well over a million votes were cast in a special election that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill predicted would only see 25 percent turnout at best. Black voters came out in force, in some places exceeding 2014-level turnout by 30 points, while tens of thousands of white rural voters — Trump and Roy Moore’s core base in the state — sat this one out. The numbers whipsawed throughout the night, with Jones making up a 50,000-vote gap in under an hour as Democratic votes from Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham’s Jefferson County came boiling in.

Moore refused to concede, of course. It looks like he wants a recount, which he will have to pay for, and his people were talking about outstanding military votes, but they all sounded like the kid with 10 fingers tasked to plug 11 holes in the dike. With 100 percent of the precincts reporting just before midnight, Jones’ margin of victory was north of 20,000 votes, well past the margin for an automatic recount according to state law.

This was decisive, and as for stringing this election out like the GOP did in Minnesota in 2008, here’s a pro tip: The only candidates who get away with even attempting a bum’s rush like that are candidates with friends. Roy Moore has no friends where it matters. The Alabama GOP chairman has declared the race over, the secretary of state said a change in results is highly unlikely, and even Mitch McConnell was relieved by this outcome, despite the fact that it narrows his majority to a whisper. This is done.

Black voters came out in force.

If you wrote this script, nobody would buy it. Almost a full year into the Age of Trump and you expect me to believe Alabama of all states would be the place where this awful Christo-fascist nationalist inertia we’ve been enduring finally gets thrown back? I’d have sooner bet on the Hartford Whalers to win the Stanley Cup this year, and they haven’t skated since 1997. Yet here we sit, 51 to 49 in the United States Senate and Steve Bannon temporarily stuffed back into the Mercer-funded Crackerjack box he emerged from. Go Whalers.

What a filthy vat of goat vomit was this election. There was so much about it that was historically awful, but this really took the cake: After multiple women accused Moore of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers, a pro-Trump organization called The America First Project sent a 12-year-old girl to interview Moore on the eve of the election.

The group’s stated point was to demonstrate “that there is a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore.” In reality, they were flipping the bird at Moore’s accusers by showing he could be in a room with a 12-year-old girl without molesting her. Then there were the radio spots, funded by conservative super PACs, with lines like, “I heard Doug Jones would add even more Black babies to the 300,000 already being aborted this year.” Yeah, it was that bad.

Moore isn’t some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred.

A disgraced judge accused of serial sexual misconduct with teenagers and wreathed in the sweaty laurels of Donald Trump, Roy Moore is the avatar of many of the problems that currently haunt the Republican Party. However, Moore isn’t some oddball outlier; he is the culmination of 40 years spent by the GOP polluting their own base with fear, nonsense and hatred. The fact that so many Trump base voters stayed home on Tuesday night, even in the face of Doug Jones’ vivid pro-choice stance, is frankly astonishing. In the end, Moore was too much even for a party that would seemingly elect a bag of cancer cells if it had an “R” stamped on it.

The “takes” on last night’s election will be coming fast and furious today, so I’ll make mine short:

* If the #MeToo moment cannot be said to have won this election outright, it had as much or more to do with Jones’ win as anything else. The national conversation about sexual abuse lasered in on Alabama after The Washington Post blew the lid off Moore’s sordid behavior, and last night’s election will stand in history as another chapter in our ongoing national reckoning.

* Jones has to run again in 2020, which means he has to start campaigning for re-election tomorrow, and he is still a senator from Alabama. Just because he won doesn’t mean Alabama has suddenly become Berkeley. A less toxic candidate than Moore may very well have prevailed. In order to help his chances back home, I strongly suspect Jones will be breaking with the Democratic caucus on any number of important votes. Doug Jones is not Roy Moore, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be Ted Kennedy.

Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.

* Amazing and refreshing as this victory is, the fact remains that a man repeatedly accused of child molestation came within less than 2 percentage points of defeating a man who successfully prosecuted the Klan members responsible for murdering four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. White Trump voters still turned out for Moore in numbers large enough to make it dangerously close. This, to me, is proof that high turnout actually works … and in order to beat back the forces of Trump and Moore, high turnout will have to be commonplace every election from here on out. It is also proof that despite this win, white supremacy and misogyny are very much alive in Alabama and beyond.

* While it is undeniably wonderful that a ghoul like Roy Moore has been thwarted, the Democrats are going to miss him, election-wise, in 2018. Had Moore won, every GOP candidate for the midterms would be forced to address his wilder claims, and the entire Republican Party would be painted with that brush. That might have been enough to win back the Senate majority, and maybe even flip the House. Of course, it is vastly preferable not to have Moore in the United States Senate … but he would have made a damn fine Typhoid Mary, afflicting his fellow Republicans with his own words and deeds.

* This election will have no immediate effect on the Senate, as McConnell has promised not to seat the winner until after the New Year.

* Note to the Democratic Party: Nothing is impossible. You won in Alabama. I hope you took notes.

* Finally, odds are good that many voices today will proclaim the Trump Revolution to be over. While the president has indeed been handed a stinging rebuke that he will surely handle in his usual calm and measured way, the fact remains that some 35 percent of the country still believes his tweets are all being carved onto stone tablets somewhere. A great swath of Congress is still irrationally petrified of him because of his unswerving base, and that fact alone swings some weight. The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore’s defeat does not count as a mortal blow.

The walls have closed in on Trump a bit more, to be sure, but Moore’s defeat does not count as a mortal blow.

Finally, this: I am, in my own way, a son of Alabama. My father is buried there, as is his father and mother. I was a page in the Alabama state senate during Shelby’s first term, and had the run of the haunted old capitol building all the way back to when my father worked for Don Siegelman in the secretary of state’s office. My father was the United States attorney out of Montgomery for most of the Clinton administration, and was chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party in the grim years after the 2000 election debacle and the September 11 attacks. It was a hard hustle.

If my father wasn’t already dead, Tuesday night might have killed him. For stalwart FDR Democrats like him — and there are many in Alabama — men like Roy Moore are an unendurable humiliation. Had he been alive to see the outcome of this vote, my dad would have howled from his porch into the Birmingham night until the wee hours, or until they finally arrested him, whichever came first. He would have been surpassingly proud of his home state last night, and deservedly so.

When I was a boy, I once saw George Wallace wheeled in to the Alabama capitol building via the back door. He looked green. Last night, the state of Alabama — reddest of the red — shook the green hand of Wallace off its shoulder and looked forward. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.


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