Alabama voters elected a Democratic senator on Tuesday after a hotly contested race that saw Roy Moore and Doug Jones neck-in-neck for much of the evening. Why did a deeply red state elect a Democrat? The short answer is probably that bombshell Washington Post report with allegations that Moore pursued teenage girls, one of whom said she was underage at the time, while he was in his 30s.
Syndicated columnist and National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg joined Glenn on today’s show to discuss the longer version of the answer. What can we learn from the Alabama election, and what does it mean for the future of conservatism?
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: It was an interesting night, and bad because we have a Democrat in the Senate. Good, because I think it has given the Republicans a chance to redeem themselves, which I think is really important for the conservative movement, moving forward.
I mean, you — we were facing a situation, any Republican should have won Alabama. Any Republican. Mel Carnahan could have won yesterday. Yeah. I know he’s dead.
No. He was — yeah, he’s — he’s dead.
GLENN: Anyone dead could have won yesterday against a Democrat in Alabama, but that obviously didn’t happen. Because you have Roy Moore and Kermit Gosnell could have beaten Roy Moore.
So we have an interesting situation, and possibly a chance to breathe new life into the movement. Jonah Goldberg is here. Senator editor of National Review. How are you doing, Jonah?
JONAH: Dr. Beck, good to be back.
GLENN: Good to speak to you, sir.
Thank you for addressing me as a doctor, I appreciate that.
JONAH: You know — you know, in German, if you have more than one doctorate, you get called Dr. Doctor. So if you get another doctorate, you know, I’ll call you Dr. Doctor Beck.
GLENN: Okay. Well, I don’t think there’s a real chance of me getting a second doctorate. But, hey, I’m still young.
So Jonah, how did you feel last night, and how do you feel this morning?
JONAH: Well, you know, I was very happy about it all last night. But mostly for base and unmensch-like reasons. I was wallowing — like I should have brought out one of those inflatable kiddie pools.
GLENN: Hello. Did we lose him?
STU: Seemed like he dropped back.
GLENN: Oh, man. We were getting to a good Jonah Goldberg line too. It was involving a kiddie pool.
I guess that’s how I kind of felt last night.
STU: Yeah, it’s interesting. I would like to hear his explanation to that. Because there is that level of — there were a lot of people who said they were a lot smarter than everyone else who told you that Roy Moore was the right guy. And he wasn’t. I know quite clearly we now know that.
That being said, it’s a really bad outcome. There was not a good outcome. I don’t think happiness was possible watching that last night. There was a bad candidate, running against a bad candidate. And, you know, I don’t think there was a positive outcome that makes you happy after that.
GLENN: And we lost Jonah. He’s back now. You said you were thinking about getting a kiddie pool.
JONAH: Yeah, I’m sorry.
I was getting a kiddie pool and filling it up with schadenfreude, because I was just wallowing in the misfortune of Steve Bannon, who I think is easily the most overrated, you know, political strategist, Svengali mastermind in my lifetime.
JONAH: I mean, literally — literally, a monkey throwing darts at lists of names would have a better winning track record than Steve Bannon has had in the last year and a half, picking challengers to incumbent Republicans. And yet, he still has this bizarre Jedi-like hold over a lot of people as somehow brilliant because he can quote Cicero or something. And I don’t get it.
GLENN: Yeah. You think this is — this has discredited him enough.
Let me ask you this: I think what happened, Mitch McConnell wanted Luther Strange, the people of Alabama did not want Mitch McConnell’s pick. They didn’t want Mitch McConnell.
GLENN: And then Steve Bannon comes in and does — you know, tries to do the whole, just deny it and just keep rolling and people won’t care. And just keep bashing fake news. And I think people — I think it was a turning point. People were like, you know what, I’ll accept some of that, but not all of that.
JONAH: No, I think that’s right. And it’s worth remembering that Bannon didn’t have anything to do with orchestrating Roy Moore’s win in the primary. He just parachuted in and took credit for it.
You know, there’s this long-held rule of thumb among rain makers on K straight. You know, these consultants. And the rule is, when it rains, dance. That way, you can take credit for something that you have nothing to do with.
So he won — of all the things he wanted credit for was Roy Moore.
GLENN: And we’ll give him credit.
JONAH: Good luck with that too. But more broadly, I — I think the results can be wildly overread. You know, I listened to the head of the DNC this morning, Tom Perez on a bunch of different networks. And they’re talking about how the Doug Jones coalition in Alabama is something that could be replicated elsewhere. No, it can’t. It just can’t.
This is a — this was a unique situation. And it wasn’t that the coalition — I mean, it was impressive turnout of Americans. But the most impressive thing and the real decisive thing was just the number of Republicans and conservatives who stayed home, or wrote in someone other than either of those guys.
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.
JONAH: And I think I find that encouraging. I think we — I mean, it sucks to lose a Senate seat. You know, I actually want Trump’s — I want the tax bill, at least the version of it I hope that comes out of all this, I want that to pass. And there’s a lot of important things that the Senate could do. And it stinks to lose a Senate seat.
But the decision to throw away that Senate seat was made 6-12 month ago. And to blame people now for saying, you know — you know, for people — to blame people who had a moral objection to someone who was credibly accused of preying on teenage girls, for a guy who had a thumbless grasp of the Constitution while claiming to be its foremost champion. For a guy who was essentially a bigot and a crackpot, to say that somehow you’re — you’re not principled or you’re not a team player if you have a problem with this guy is ridiculous. You put up a monster and then put people to fall in line, you’re going to get this kind of situation.
At the same time, the omens are really bad for the G.O.P. going into 2018. The Virginia results were much more — I would be much more terrified reading those tea leaves than the Alabama tea leaves.
But the most important number, coming out of Alabama, is only 48 percent of Alabamians approve of Donald Trump.
You know, a Republican president in Alabama should be polling at like 65 percent. And that, I think, is a real omen that we could be seeing a wave coming that could flip the House. And I think the Senate is a bridge too far. But it could — but it could possibly flip the Senate.
GLENN: So, Jonah, does this — does this give an omen of a couple of things? One, possibly Donald Trump going to be in trouble. You know the Democrats are going to use all of the women and the accusations against him.
And it seems to me that even the Republicans are now saying, you know what, I don’t want anything to do with this. At least there’s a number of them, enough to really cause problems.
Does this make the case against Donald Trump stronger, and at the same time, does this make the conservative’s case of standing up for women and not being dirtbags, does it make us stronger?
JONAH: I think yes and no. Look, first of all, people are giving, you know, the Democrats are a hard — you know, hard time for so cynically forcing out Al Franken. You know, it would take a heart of stone to not laugh, what’s going on with Al Franken. This guy resigned solely so they could tee up the Roy Moore as the Medusa head of the Republican Party. You know, this horrible, evil creature that Republicans embrace in their heart, and then the guy doesn’t win. And so Al Franken is just sort of left standing there at the bus stop like, what do I do now?
But, you know, look, the Democrats I think got — threw Franken under the bus, purely for — well, not purely, but almost purely for cynical partisan reasons, that they wanted to set up this argument against Trump and Roy Moore. And fine. It’s fine to point that out. But it’s also worth sort of celebrating.
Because the political incentives in a healthy country are supposed to force politicians to do the right thing.
JONAH: And, you know, this has always been a point I’ve been trying to make to conservatives for 20 years now. Which the point of the conservative movement has never been to get people with R’s after their name elected. The point of the conservative movement is to change attitudes and values in this country, to the point where craven political creatures of both parties see it as being in their own political self-interest to do the more conservative thing. Or just to do the right thing.
And so, yeah, the Democrats were being cynical about all this. I think the Republicans are in an interesting spot. The — the me too stuff, the women’s stuff is a little harder for the Democrats to use. Because they were really counting on Roy Moore.
JONAH: So this gives, I think, a little bit of a breather for Republicans to, you know, get their bearings.
I also just think it gives the Republicans a chance. You know, one of the things that is so messed up and dysfunctional in our politics is that Trump — elected Republicans act as if Trump is an incredibly powerful president. But by only — by up almost any historical metric, Trump is a remarkably weak president. The problem is, he had great strength over a statistically significant slice of the primary electorate. And that makes these guys terrified.
And so you get this sort of weird situation, where a lot of Republicans feel that they have to say nice things about Trump. But they can vote any way they want.
You know, this is one of the things that drives me crazy right now is the — the incentive structure is to have almost no party discipline when it comes to how you vote, but absolute discipline about how you praise the leader. And, you know, the fantastic wheat harvest he’s going to deliver next year.
GLENN: But doesn’t this change now? Because Luther Strange didn’t get in and Trump was for him. And then Trump tried to go in and help Roy Moore pull off a miracle here? He doesn’t — if he could cast a spell, he should have cast it in Alabama, and that’s the one place it would have taken.
JONAH: No, I think that’s right. And I think this points to something I wish Republicans could think more clearly about. There is no such thing as Trumpism without Trump.
JONAH: You know, Bannon keeps trying to make fetch happen. And it doesn’t work. He keeps trying to make as if there’s this Trumpist national movement out there, when at best, it’s a little rump of a movement. And every time he tries to put up these Trumpist candidates to sort of replicate the Trump model, they fail speck tack lateral. And the thing — it’s only Trumpism with Trump. But Trumpism isn’t an ideological thing when it comes to Trump. It’s a personality thing. It’s a cult of personality.
Because there is no ideological coherence to what Trump’s own version of Trumpism is. He changes on a dime all the time. Because for him, it’s about ego and narcissism. And his personal glory.
He doesn’t care about the details of legislation. And so what would be great is if Republicans, particularly in the House, understood that — that their agenda — they should worry about what their agenda is regardless of Trump. Because Trump will declare anything that they do a victory anyway.
GLENN: Yes. He’ll sign anything.
JONAH: Yeah. And just make the best legislation you can, consistent with conservative principles, that helps you get reelected.
JONAH: And stop sweating about Trump’s tweets and the rest. Because they’re — they’re sinonimos (phonetic) fire. They flare up, and they disappear in almost six minutes in this weird news cycle we’re in.
GLENN: Jonah Goldberg from National Review Online. Thank you so much.
JONAH: Hey, great to be back. Thanks, guys.
STU: Of course, read Jonah on NationalReview.com. @JonahNRO on Twitter. And he’s got a new podcast out as well you should check out.
GLENN: He is really smart, really. And he is the guy that I credit for putting me on to the progressive movement. His dad fought against progressives for a very long time. And he wrote liberal fascism. And that was the book that I really started to really dig in and go, wait. Wait. Wait. I didn’t know any of this.
STU: That’s a must-read.
GLENN: Yeah, it’s a must-read. It’s one that you should have on your shelf at your home. Your kids should read Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg.