MONTGOMERY, Ala.—Everything had to break exactly right for Doug Jones to win the U.S. Senate election in deep-red Alabama, and it did. Jones ran a disciplined campaign that hinged on the turnout of black voters, and it delivered for him.
But everything also had to break the wrong way for the Republicans, and it did: A series of machinations among senior GOP officials led to a runoff between the unpopular Luther Strange and Roy Moore, best known for losing his judgeship over a dramatic battle to keep a 10 Commandments monument in the state’s supreme court. Moore had a loyal base of support in Alabama despite—or because of—the litany of controversies attached to him, including his inflammatory remarks about homosexuality and Muslims serving in office. He was unable to reach beyond that base, however, and barely tried. In the end, Moore could not survive allegations by nine women that he had pursued or sexually abused them when they were teenagers—one as young as 14. The story consumed the final weeks of the campaign, with Moore unable to offer a substantive rebuttal, instead attempting to discredit the mainstream media and his accusers. He went underground during the race’s final stretch, hardly appearing in public, while Jones barnstormed the state.
Fighting the last battle is a common political mistake. Moore’s campaign and his biggest backers, such as the Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon, thought that Moore could survive the allegations by doubling down and toughing it out, the same way President Trump defied conventional wisdom and won despite the Access Hollywood tape. They were wrong. Moore’s loss showed that some laws of gravity still apply in politics.