WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is scrambling to come to grips with a more perilous political reality, after a stunning Democratic election victory in America’s deeply conservative south threw the depth and breadth of his support into serious doubt.
Doug Jones’ win in an Alabama Senate race Tuesday — the first such Democratic victory in a quarter-century — cut the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, squeezing Trump’s ability to get legislation through Congress.
The finger of blame turned squarely to Republican candidate Roy Moore, who ran on an openly bigoted message, was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls and ignored party calls to drop out.
Sensing the gathering storm, Trump tried to absolve himself of blame and urged Republicans to run “GREAT Republican candidates” in future.
“Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” Trump tweeted, reminding Americans that Moore was not his first choice in the race.
He had unsuccessfully endorsed another candidate in the party primary.
But as the broader political autopsy commenced, Trump’s role in the race and the implications for his presidency came under the microscope.
Trump ignored the advice of party leaders to throw his weight behind 70-year-old Moore, seeing the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice as something of a kindred political spirit.
Like Trump, Moore had sought to win through a coalition of evangelical and white voters, betting that bedrock of support would be enough — and would shield him from any political scandal.
Moore — aided by Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon — also borrowed liberally from Trump’s playbook, reveling in racially charged statements such as casting doubt on the desirability of abolishing slavery, as well as constant attacks on the press and other “elites.”
In the run-up to the vote, Trump appealed to evangelicals by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and worked to pass tax reform, a central issue for Republicans.
Lessons for 2018?
But some in Trump’s inner circle now wonder whether Alabama shows the limits of his approach: If it does not work in deep red Alabama, where can it work?
The question is one that the White House will have to solve urgently. Next year sees mid-term legislative elections that offer Democrats a chance to regain control of both chambers of Congress.
For months, Republican donors have voiced concerns that the party may lose control of the House of Representatives.