Gerald Seib is on the right track in his piece in The Wall Street Journal, but he’s wide of the mark.
Tuesday’s Senate race in Alabama represented an attempt by the president and Mr [Steve] Bannon, his foremost political strategist, to show that they weren’t only in control of the party but could use their rebellious, antiestablishment message to drive their new version of the GOP to victory.
Yes and no. No, because as Seib seems to have forgotten, President Donald Trump pushed for the temporary (and establishment) incumbent, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary because Strange was the candidate he thought would win the runoff. Trump only late in the runoff openly backed Moore when if became apparent that Moore was going to lose to Jones.
He’s right about Bannon, though:
Mr Bannon’s pledge to field and fund nationalist, rabble-rousing Republicans to challenge a whole series of Republican senators up for re-election next year
That comment was about how much Republicans need worry about Bannon in the coming primaries and general elections, but that’s what Bannon has been doing all along: putting up rabble-rousers who fit his claimed brand of conservatism without regard to whether these persons actually could win a general election.
As with Roy Moore and the candidates he backed in last month’s Virginia contests, Bannon carefully chooses ideological purity, his purity, over electability. Of course he knew what the results of that would be. Bannon is doing the Progressive-Democratic Party’s dirty work; he’s not at all pushing for Conservatism in our Congress.
In the end, the thing hinges on practical politics, on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) has said many times: it’s necessary to nominate candidates that actually can win elections. If the candidate loses his election contest, it doesn’t matter how pure or impure his conservatism or his character. He won’t have a voice in the legislature. And neither will conservatism.
There’s an additional lesson here that the Republican Party and its candidates need to learn and act on, starting right damn now. The Alabama runoff emphasized what the Progressive-Democratic Party did during last year’s general election and what they did sub rosa all through their guy’s Presidency: character assassination and smear works as a tactic. With Jones’ win, the Republican Party needs to be ready to handle smears that will be generated against all of their candidates—every single one of them—in 2018 and 2020 and beyond.