Elections are binary events. One candidate wins; the others lose. From a certain perspective, Doug Jones’s victory in the Alabama special Senate election was a squeaker. Jones’s opponent, Roy Moore, was credibly accused of being a sexual predator who targeted underage girls, and even so Jones only won by a few thousand votes. But, from another perspective, the election was a rout. African-American turnout was extremely strong for Jones, and so was turnout in the educated white sections of the state. The votes were depressed in the rural, conservative parts of the state, and among the rich Republican suburbs outside Birmingham. Donald Trump won Alabama last year by nearly thirty points; in the state’s 2014 Senate race, the Democrats did not even run a candidate. “We’ve got to stop looking like idiots,” Charles Barkley had said of Alabama on Monday night, while speaking at a Jones rally. By 9:30 P.M. the next night, the N.B.A. legend was circling the room at the Democrat’s victory party, exchanging hugs. The state looked a bit different all around.
The anxiety that took hold in the Democratic Party after last year’s Presidential loss was that its coalition had left too many white, rural voters out, that it had grown too urban and cosmopolitan, that unless it made some radical changes in approach or ideology it might be boxed in for a long time. From the perspective of tonight, however, the Democratic Party is doing just fine. In November, the Democrats ran a conventional candidate in the Virginia governor’s race, Ralph Northam, and won easily; tonight, in Jones, they ran a similar figure (pro-choice, easily linked to the Clintons) and won a Senate race in Alabama. The country remakes itself all the time. This isn’t the America of 2016 any longer.
For the Republicans, there will be questions. For the past two years, Steve Bannon’s brand of ugly, hostile nationalism had seemed like it would take over the Party. But, in Alabama, the perils of running an outsider movement became obvious: you wind up depending upon figures like Roy Moore. His candidacy was so strange and damaged that it will beg a list of what-ifs: What if the Republican Party had not initially tolerated Moore in the primaries? What if Moore had turned out to be a more dedicated campaigner? What if the Washington Post had not broken the story about his serial sexual predation? There are many scenarios under which Jones probably would not have won. But what’s happened has happened. By the end of Tuesday, it was Roy Moore who, against all evidence, was insisting that the race was not yet over, while Jones was giving a victory speech, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. From Washington, Trump tweeted to congratulate Jones. “A win is a win,” he wrote. For Trump, the moment still seemed unsettled. What kind of Republican Party does he want? That is for tomorrow. The President finished his tweet with a flourish: “It never ends!”