In his hay day, professional wrestling legend Ric Flair had a saying: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.”
With Republicans concerned about Roy Moore acting as a spoiler in 2020, that Flair-ism could be applied to Alabama’s upcoming U.S. Senate race: For him not to be the man, you have to beat the man.
Sounds simple, right? How hard could it be to beat a guy who is still under a cloud of suspicion for sexual misconduct, was removed from the bench twice and gave Alabama its first statewide-elected Democrat in more than a decade?
Apparently it is harder than we think.
Before 2017, Moore had success down ballot, likely the result of his high name ID, in two Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice contests.
The first came in 2000 when Moore — known for facing down the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an Etowah County circuit judge for his display of a homemade, wooden Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of his courtroom, behind his bench — won his first Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice race.
His next statewide win came for the same office once again in 2012, nearly a decade after being removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for violating a federal court order regarding his display of the Ten Commandments, itself a violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.
In the interim, Moore took two shots at governor, in 2006 against incumbent Gov. Bob Riley in a Republican primary and again in a crowded field for the Republican nod in 2010.
In his 2010 effort, Moore finished fourth behind Tim James, Bradley Byrne and Robert Bentley.
That’s it, right? Off to Buck’s Pocket, the mythical graveyard for political careers after significant defeats.
As if it was some divinely inspired payback for the role Alabama played in launching Donald Trump’s eventual, historic presidential election win, 2017 presented new opportunity for Judge Moore.
In 2017, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions became U.S. Attorney General. Then-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to fill Sessions’ vacancy. All three of those individuals have since faded from public life.
After Bentley’s unceremonious exit from the governor’s mansion, newly sworn-in Gov. Kay Ivey set a special election for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Strange.
At this point, the gimmickry ensued. A Washington, D.C., GOP-establishment expected Strange to be around for a long time. Potential candidates were turned away by political consultants who were threatened with being blackballed if they accepted any clients who might challenge Strange. Would-be contenders were forced to sit this one out.
Yet, two candidates were undeterred by those strongarm tactics: U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and Roy Moore.
Neither Brooks nor Strange, with all his D.C. backing, could beat Roy Moore.
Moore did lose. It took an effort of national Democrats, and perhaps some behind-the-scenes shenanigans from Republicans, which we may never know the full truth.
Jones’ win was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events akin to Auburn returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown against top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Everything had to go right.
Even with that defeat, Moore still had two election wins under his belt, winning a plurality in a Republican primary and then a primary runoff against Strange, where he was outspent 10-to-1.
Did we actually think he was going to go away? If so, we were fooling ourselves.
This time it has to be different. Good candidates with the potential to win are not being dissuaded from running. Alabama is poised to send Roy Moore back home to Gallant, Alabama, and to Buck’s Pocket once and for all.
Believe it or not, there is chatter the political class in faraway places is worried about Roy Moore 2.0. Last week, Sen. Richard Shelby told The Washington Post he did not want Roy Moore in the field again. He proposed the revival of Jeff Sessions as a U.S. Senate candidate, which he argued would clear the field.
Sessions in the 2020 field would be a major reset, akin to Sen. Marco Rubio dropping out of the 2016 presidential race and entering Florida’s U.S. Senate race. At that point, the entire GOP field dissolved their campaigns, clearing the way for Rubio to beat then-Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democratic nominee for a second U.S. Senate term.
However, Sessions’ arrival and likely dominance will not mean the end for Roy Moore. Instead of being defeated, he can claim he stepped aside for Sessions, and leave him eyeing another statewide office run later down the road.
If Roy Moore’s opponents never want to hear from him again, defeat him fair and square. Don’t let questions of backroom electioneering, Project Birmingham-type social media campaign theatrics or senior Republicans like Richard Shelby interjecting himself leave any doubt.
Beat Moore fair and square. Make any of his future campaigns a novelty act like Alabama perennial election cycle punching bag Shorty Price.
A convincing defeat is more persuasive in the eyes of the public than anything the media can do. This primary contest and the subsequent general election will feature Donald Trump at the top of the ballot. It will not be a low-turnout event like 2017 where a candidate like Roy Moore could be buoyed by cult-like following.
Glossy flyers and campaign commercials portraying Moore as a gun-grabber, or some smear tactic catering to the lowest common denominator are not necessary this time.
Have faith in the Alabama electorate to pick the best candidate.
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