Donald Trump has always used one word to describe himself: “winner.” He told voters last year that America would be so successful under his rule that they’d get “tired of winning.”
But after the Senate election in Alabama, there’s one word to describe the president. And that word is “loser.”
The implications are potentially enormous, both for legislation and for politics. Some of those implications are practical and obvious, while others are intangible and hard to measure. They are questions of mood and momentum, hope and disappointment. But in politics, psychology matters. A lot.
It’s dangerous to over-interpret one strange election in one atypical state. But this much we do know: President Trump’s aura of success has been punctured. For two years, he’s confounded critics, rewritten political rules and held the political world in thrall. No more.
Trump went all out for Republican Roy Moore, appearing at rallies, recording calls, tweeting his support. Last year, the president carried Alabama with 63 percent of the vote. Moore won 48 percent this week -- a drop-off of 15 points. The magic is gone.
So what does this mean? Start with legislation. The Republican margin in the Senate will drop from two seats to one. Democrats are already demanding that their candidate, Doug Jones, be seated immediately so he can vote on the massive tax bill heading for Congressional passage before Christmas.
They will probably lose that fight, but come January, Republican leaders will have to live with the new reality. Trump said repeatedly that he needed Moore’s vote to enact his agenda, and he was right, but this is not just a case of numbers.
What happens to Republican moderates who have already demonstrated a willingness to defy the president? Will they be less afraid of him now? Less loyal? More willing to chart an independent course? The answer is almost certainly yes.
Then there’s politics. From the beginning, Trump has been a minority president, with his favorable numbers stuck at all-time lows, somewhere in the mid-30s. His base remains loyal, but he’s failed to expand beyond his hard-core supporters. And that weakness showed up in Alabama. Forty-eight percent of voters told exit polls they had a favorable view of Trump, and 48 percent is exactly what Moore received.
About 15 to 20 percent of the voters who backed Trump a year ago voiced deep doubts about his temperament and character, and yet they voted for him anyway. They’re the ones who are abandoning him now; they’re also the ones who doomed Moore, and helped elect a Democrat governor in Virginia.
The key group here is women -- particularly educated suburban mothers, who see Trump as a terrible role model for their kids. Perhaps the most telling statistic of all in the Alabama vote: Two-thirds of all mothers with children at home voted for Jones.
Combine those women with two other groups who voted heavily Democratic -- minorities and youth -- and Democrats can see the beginning of a winning coalition they can build on in other states next year.
Caution is justified. That same coalition failed to elect Hillary Clinton last year, and the election map in 2018 favors Republicans, especially in the Senate. And while the civil war raging in the Republican Party is open and obvious, Democrats have problems of their own.
One key to victory in Alabama was Doug Jones himself, a card-carrying moderate who talked openly about working with Republicans and restoring “dignity” and “civility” to politics. He’s the only sort of Democrat who can win in many states, and the Sanders-Warren wing of the party will make a huge mistake if they think that their victories in Virginia and Alabama justify a lurch to the left.
But in politics, winning breeds confidence. In the aftermath of Alabama, there are Democrats all over the country saying, “Maybe I should run next year; maybe I should get involved in my local party; maybe I should give money and time to the cause.”
“There is an incredible opportunity in some of these red states to compete,” Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis told the Washington Post. “Flipping a red seat energizes and excites the base. It fuels fundraising and it puts races that people weren’t thinking about playing in on the map.”
A year is a long time in politics, and three years is an eternity. But after Alabama, one fact is indisputable: Trump is not unbeatable or invincible. He can be defied and defeated. And that one fact alters everything.