If ever there is legitimacy to playing a “blame game,” it exists right now with regard to the mess Alabama Republicans face in a special U.S. Senate election that should not be occurring in the first place.
In order of approximate chronology rather than of seriousness, here are all the places the blame lies – with the obvious caveat that by far the largest part of the blame lies with Roy Moore, if the allegations against him are even close to being true.
1) Luther Strange. I am reliably informed that numerous people, wise and experienced, advised Strange not to allow his name even to be considered for appointment to the Senate under the unique circumstances then existing. If he wanted to be the senator, he should have run under his own power, not as the selection of the very governor Strange was supposed to be investigating on criminal charges. The appearance of a conflict of interest was too obvious and too appalling.
2) Robert Bentley. Of course the governor should not have done any of the things that compromised himself in the first place – but, having done so, he should never, ever have considered Strange for the appointment. See above.
3) Mitch McConnell and his minions/Political Action Committees (henceforth: MMMPACs). MMMPACs, having failed to learn the lessons of earlier interferences in state elections (for example, opposing Marco Rubio in Florida, Ben Sasse in Nebraska, and others who proved to be excellent senators), decided to waste some $9 million on behalf of the un-re-electable Strange. Even worse, MMMPACs tried to act as bully-boys, threatening candidates and campaign consultants that if they opposed Strange, they would never work in/have no future in Republican politics ever again. Potentially strong candidates – ones who could have defeated both Strange and Moore – were thus bullied out of the race.
4) Governor Kay Ivey. She was wrong, both practically and I believe legally, to call for the special election this year. Practically, a cash-strapped state should not be spending $15 million to run an election when there would really have been no harm in waiting until a regular election in 2018. Also practically, the unique circumstances of the Bentley scandal meant that the political waters were too roiled to allow the public a “normal” and thoughtful consideration of the potential candidates, with too little time for some potentially good candidates to get organized enough to make the race. Finally, while nobody challenged her in court, I am convinced that once Bentley had called the election for 2018, nothing in state law allows a governor the power to unilaterally change a duly called election date. In short, this election should not have been held until November of 2018.
5) Mo Brooks. This is the least of these blame points but it warrants inclusion on this list. The conservative with the best chance of sneaking past Strange into the runoff with Moore chose an ill-conceived tactic that blew up in his face, by airing a TV ad with video of Brooks being interviewed at the scene of the shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Scalise’s staffers themselves were outraged, and were quoted complaining that Brooks appeared to be trying to profit politically from the assassination attempt.
6) Strange and MMMPACs. Together, they ran one of the most despicable campaigns I have witnessed in more than four decades involved in or covering politics. They poisoned the well with harshly negative, even vicious, and at least somewhat untrue attacks against both Moore and Brooks. (The worst was the one insinuating that Brooks somehow was weak against ISIS!) And when they weren’t wrongly attacking their opponents, they were running ads for Strange that were so trite they insultingly played into national stereotypes about supposedly simple-minded Alabamans. So obnoxious were their tactics that, if basing the judgment on the campaign alone, neither Strange nor McConnell should ever hold office again.
7) Donald Trump. He, too, should have stayed away from a state’s party primary. By jumping in before the first primary, he helped (at least at the margins) Strange ward off the challenge from Brooks. Well, if the national pooh-bahs wanted “anybody but Moore,” the only way by then to stop Moore was for Brooks to edge past Strange into the runoff. As I said the very day qualifying for the race closed, Strange had no chance on God’s green Earth to defeat Moore in a runoff if those were the two candidates who emerged.
It is time for a hard and fast new rule: National party committees and so-called “Leadership PACs,” and their affiliates, should avoid all direct financial involvement in party primaries. Sure, they can and ought to try to recruit good candidates, but their recruiting pitch should be this: “We can help line you up with good strategists and workers and policy briefings, and we will commit to raising X amount of money for you if you emerge as the nominee. But aside from that, winning the nomination is up to you; we are holding our money and our clout for use against Democrats in the general election, not to trash fellow Republicans in a primary.”
Mitch McConnell, Luther Strange and company utterly screwed up this whole election. They should hang their heads in shame.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.