Jacob Heilbrunn

The revolt against the Republican establishment is only just beginning

The revolt against the Republican establishment is only just beginning
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Beware the Moore. This is the doctrine that establishment Republicans such as the Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who poured in millions of dollars to try and defeat Judge Roy Moore’s bid for the Republican Senate primary nomination in Alabama, were preaching in recent months. For good measure, President Trump also backed the current Senator Luther Strange, who was crushed yesterday by Moore. Trump has hastily deleted his tweets supporting Strange, including one declaring that 'Big Luther,’ as Trump likes to call him, was 'shooting up' in the polls after he endorsed him. Now, Trump is tweeting that Moore 'sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to #MAGA!’

For Trump, this primary is a mere flesh wound. For McConnell, it is a crippling injury. The result suggests that the revolt against the Republican establishment is not over. It’s just beginning.

Already the Republican party, which controls all three branches of government, has been unable to pass any significant legislation. The ascension of Moore to the Senate would further gum up its ability to pass any legislation or even approve a budget. The powers of an individual Senator are considerable and a man with Moore’s kind of gumption could help bring it to a standstill, using it as a pulpit from which to issue fiery edicts about the parlous state of the country. For Moore is the culture warrior par excellence.

He has a theatrical streak, pulling out a revolver at a recent campaign rally to brandish his tough guy credentials. But for him, everything truly revolves around the Bible which trumps the Constitution. Moore, you could say, is someone who knows his own mind: 'I want to see virtue and morality returned to our country and God is the only source of our law, liberty and government.’ In 2005, he announced, 'homosexual conduct should be illegal' and opposition to same-sex marriage is his calling card.

But as thrilling as such antics may be to the Republican base, they raise the question of whether the GOP itself really is headed toward a civil war? Can the party successfully contain everyone from more moderate Senators in Maine such as Susan Collins to rabble-rousers like Moore? And will the rise of more Moores simply condemn the GOP to impotence?

Democrats are already pointing to a different election as the true bellwether of where national politics may be headed. Last night, they picked up two Republican seats in state legislatures, one in Florida, where Annette Taddeo won, and the other in New Hampshire, where Karl Lerner triumphed in a district that heavily supported Trump in 2016. Overall, the Democrats have been steadily winning in special state elections this year.

Even as Democrats eye 2018, however, the Republican base, which despises what it sees as the phoney conservatives who infest the nation’s capital, are intent on remaking the party in their own image. It was no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that Bob Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and a decided sceptic of Trump, announced his retirement yesterday, initiating a scramble on the right to replace him. Moore may despise evolution theory, but his triumph signifies that a kind of scramble for the survival of the fittest is taking place on the radical right. If the rise of Moore triggers a flood of challengers on the right, merely conservative Republicans may soon find themselves searching for their own version of Noah’s Ark.