By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Columnist
Political prognostications are tricky business, and the last week must have been murder on those who do it for a living. The fabled “blue wave” looked more like a trickle on Tuesday evening, but as provisional ballots have matriculated through each state, the House GOP appears to have taken its worst beating since Watergate. A few elections remains contested, especially in (where else?) Florida.
Despite all that, Alabama showed last Tuesday that it remains solidly with the GOP, as the Republican Party held on to every major seat at the state and national level. Hopeful Democrats are best served by regarding Doug Jones’ victory as a fluke against a terrible candidate, and not as a template to future victories. Alabama is a solid Republican state. At this point, I am not sure what is going to significantly change that reality.
I’ll give state Democrats credit in one major area. Most of these folks – Walt Maddox, Will Boyd, Tabitha Isner, Mallory Hagan – had ideas and policies. They might not have been popular or even good ideas. They may not have been very well articulated (can you explain Maddox’s plan for Medicaid? Me neither!) Yet I think some Alabama Democrats should be commended for attempting to reckon with some of our problems at the state and national level. That’s a good first step for any political movement; craft ideas, introduce them to the electorate, and then persuade the electorate to vote you in to office so that you can follow through on those plans.
I have to admit that is a point of concern for me on the GOP side of the equation. Republicans spent the election cycle defending their accomplishments, many of which I support. Still, it was hard to get clarity on the specific policy ideas championed by the GOP, and the resurgence of the Alabama Education Association as a donor to many Republican campaigns suggests that conservative reform – in education, at least – does not have a bright future within our fine state. We have so many bright, reform-minded legislators, though, so it will be interesting to see how Republicans in the Legislature proceed in the months to come.
With all of that said, state Republicans made an interesting move during the general election. To be sure, no one ran away from Donald Trump, and it was common enough to see the #MAGA hashtag floating around the internet among Republicans. Ads on radio and television talked a lot about tax and spend policies and those dreaded liberals, with subtle nods to protests, social unrest, and the disaster that was the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
What I didn’t hear, however, was Kay Ivey or Will Ainsworth or any other state official desperately trying to gin up support based on their own support of President Donald Trump. Yes, they all acknowledged their support of him in a perfunctory sort of way, but no one in Alabama beclowned themselves the way Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis did in a television spot that turned Trump into the hero of a child’s bedtime story. That was a good move on their part. One way or another, Donald Trump will not be president forever, and it is best to establish an identity apart from him.
It may be that Alabama’s status as a solid Republican state meant that Ivey, Ainsworth, Steve Marshall, and all the Republican Congressional delegation in state simply did not have to work as hard to draw voters in to their coalition, and could quietly avoid carrying water for the Trump administration in order to win. Indeed, it was the Democrats who ran off the rails in their attempts to knock off their opponents. Walt Maddox and Joe Siegelman tried desperately to allege wrongdoing on the part of Kay Ivey and Steve Marshall, respectively. Mallory Hagan and Tabitha Isner ran Congressional campaigns that were angry and conspiratorial, making Mike Rogers and Martha Roby look better by comparison. One wonders if these candidates got really bad (and no doubt, expensive) advice, or if their social bubble is so small that they never realized their messages would not play well with ordinary folks. Either way, this is a serious problem that Democrats will have to overcome if they want to once again compete in Alabama.
Both parties have room to grow. While I am remain a registered independent, my conservative beliefs often leave me hoping for a strong, confident GOP. I join with many young conservatives in hoping that the ideas that animate conservatism can continue to grow in the suburbs and even among minority communities.
Yet Alabama Democrats should be more frustrated with their own party for retreading old ideas about a lottery, or in the case of Hagan and Isner, channeling the angry, progressive voice that is more at home in other parts of the country. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, but the strength of the Republican appeal this year was a continued path to prosperity and even normalcy. That is a combination that will win almost any time.