It Wasn't All Steve Bannon
Republican politics was starting to feel like a version of Mel Brooks' "The Producers." In the play, two scammers devise a tax write-off scheme in which they will make a killing by losing money on a Broadway show. They reach for the most grotesque, tasteless musical the human mind can conceive -- "Springtime for Hitler" -- and are undone when it's a surprise hit.
Roy Moore could have sprung from the imaginations of Democratic operatives hoping to find the embodiment of every stereotype that liberals cherish about conservatives. Ignorance? In a July radio interview, the anti-immigration hardliner couldn't say who the Dreamers are or what DACA refers to. He did not know that the U.S. Constitution, which he purports to revere, forbids religious tests for public office. In the Republic of Moore, Muslims would be barred from serving their country.
Conspiracy monger? He trafficked in the birtherism about Barack Obama and suggested that parts of the Midwest are ruled by Sharia law.
Anti-gay? Moore is not just a traditionalist who opposes same-sex marriage; he wants to put homosexuals in prison, and claims that the U.S. is the focus of evil in the modern world for permitting gays to marry.
Irresponsible? Moore was twice removed from office for failing to obey the law.
Anti-Semitic? When your wife defends against the charge by saying, "One of our attorneys is a Jew," it's not a good sign.
Racist? Anti-woman? Here's where the Moore show veered into wild satire territory, or would have if we hadn't actually seen it unfold. Moore said he agreed with Trump about making America great again. When, exactly, a voter asked, was America at its greatest? "I think it was great at a time when families were united, even though we had slavery, they cared for one another," said the dolt Steve Bannon chose as the kind of Republican who would stick it to Mitch McConnell and the establishment. Remember how we all spat out our coffee when Joe Biden accused Republicans of wanting to put black folks "back in chains"?
As for women, Moore was the Democrats' jackpot -- a supposedly religious conservative flamboyantly fulminating against immorality who was himself a child molester. You could not write this as fiction, because it's too incredible.
In the aftermath of Doug Jones' victory, many Republicans are saying they "dodged a bullet" because if Moore had been elected to the Senate, Democrats would have used him to discredit the entire Republican Party.
Their relief is understandable but premature. Though the morning-after commentary has tended to focus on Steve Bannon's noxious role, the Moore candidacy was not his responsibility alone. A number of key Republicans -- Richard Shelby, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, Mike Lee, Cory Gardner and others -- treated Moore as radioactive, but an amazing percentage were willing to say that a sleazy bigot was fine as long as he would vote for the president's agenda. Prominent "family values" conservatives such as James Dobson, Tim Wildmon and the infinitely flexible Jerry Falwell Jr. stood by their endorsements of Moore. Sean Hannity issued what seemed to be an ultimatum to Moore to give an account of himself regarding the teens he dated/molested, but then, Obamalike, backed away from his own red line. He said the people of Alabama would judge (as they certainly did, but not in the way Hannity was presumably hoping). Other Fox News hosts returned to the Clinton well again and again, implying that if Bill Clinton hadn't been held responsible for Juanita Broaddrick, well then...
And of course, Moore's most crucial booster was Donald Trump, someone with more than a passing interest in the "he denies it all" defense. The Republican Party has not dodged him, and cannot. You can scan the exit polls of the post-2016 elections so far and draw a scary 2018 picture for Republicans. African-Americans, who weren't motivated to turn out in off-year elections even when President Barack Obama implored them to, showed up in force in Alabama. Suburban educated voters -- the key to Republican general election victories -- have turned against the party in formerly swing state Virginia, and even in reddest Alabama.
The Republican Party has voluntarily donned a fright mask that the hapless Democrats and the evil mainstream media could never have pinned on them. It is probably too late to avert the reckoning that is coming, but even if only as a gesture of civic hygiene, individual Republicans might wish to make clear that the Molotov cocktail politics that Trump brought to the Oval Office is not what they represent.
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