American Greatness publisher, Chris Buskirk, joined Judy Woodruff on PBS News Hour yesterday for a panel on the results of the Alabama Senate special election and the implications it may have for our politics going forward. Joining Buskirk on the panel were former press secretary to House Speaker John Boehner, Michael Steel and senior editor of Inside Elections, Stuart Rothenberg. The video and transcript are below.
Judy Woodruff: Turning back now to the Alabama special Senate election.
And to tackle what the results tell us, I am joined by Chris Buskirk, editor of the conservative Web site American Greatness. Michael Steel, he was the press secretary for former House Speaker John Boehner. And Stu Rothenberg, senior editor at the political newsletter Inside Elections.
And we welcome all three of you back to the program.
Stu, I’m going to start with you.
You have been looking at the exit polls. What do they tell us about why Doug Jones was able to pull this off?
Stuart Rothenberg: Well, it’s a terrific profile of the state as we understand how various groups performed, and, Judy, as we then look back and compare how those groups performed in Alabama with how they may have been performed in Virginia.
We want to get a profile of the electorate, and are people changing, are certain groups changing? And it’s very clear why one side won and the other side lost.
Judy Woodruff: We looked — we have been talking about the African-American vote, how it turned out in numbers like what President Obama had in 2012 in a regular presidential election year.
But we also have looked — and I’m going to put this graphic up — the difference in how people voted depending on whether they were younger or older. What did we see?
Stuart Rothenberg: Well, we saw a dramatic difference.
Younger voters, voters 18-44, went for Jones by 23 points. On the other hand, voters 45 and older went for Roy Moore. This is part of the Democratic base. You talked about the African-American voters. That’s also part of the Democratic base.
And what we saw was a lot of enthusiasm on the part of African-Americans and younger voters and a different view of society, and of government, and of culture, I think, with younger voters. And they voted Democratic in Virginia, and they now voted very Democratic in Alabama, a very Republican state.
Judy Woodruff: And striking also the women’s vote. This came up in my conversation a few minutes ago with Congresswoman Sewell from Alabama.
Look how lopsided it was among Democratic women, no surprise, but among independent women, significant.
Stuart Rothenberg: Yes, and college-educated white women, a big difference. Yes, they still went for Roy Moore narrowly, but very different from white men, and very different from white working-class women without a college degree.
So you see a complex situation, where it’s not simply women voting one way or the other. It’s different kinds of women with different backgrounds, different life situations, and the Democrats seem to be making inroads there.
Judy Woodruff: And just quickly, Stu, the suburban vote almost split between Jones and Moore.
Stuart Rothenberg: This is a big deal. It’s a big deal in Alabama. It was a big deal in Virginia. And it is going to be a big deal next year.
What we have seen — and this goes to white women and white upscale women — we saw significant changes in big Alabama counties, cities with suburbs. Madison County, Huntsville, Shelby County, southeast of Birmingham, went 72 percent for Donald Trump, and this time 56 percent for Roy Moore. That’s a big difference.
And I could give you three or four other counties, but they’re there, trust me.
Judy Woodruff: Well, let’s turn to Chris Buskirk joining us.
Chris, how do you read these results? And how much of a blow is this to President Trump?
Chris Buskirk: Well, there’s no doubt that it’s a blow.
I read the results, though — I have seen some of the numbers that Stu is looking at, and they are what they are. I mean, I look at — I read them slightly differently.
You know, seven years ago I guess it was now, Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, and there was a lot of sort of self-congratulations among Republicans at the time that turned out to be premature. I think it’s premature to read too much into these results in Alabama as well.
Why? Well, because this was really a referendum on Roy Moore. It wasn’t a referendum on Donald Trump or on Trump’s agenda or on policy. This was all about Roy Moore, about the man and his character. And that’s why you saw Republicans just didn’t turn out in the numbers they needed to in order to win.
It’s also why you saw Democrats turned out in greater numbers than you would have expected in a special election. And, you know, this just goes to prove, once again, candidates really do matter. We have got to get good ones if we want to win.
Judy Woodruff: Michael Steel, unique circumstances or something bigger than that?
Michael Steel: Both.
I think that the Moore — look, Alabama had its own set of issues. Roy Moore is a uniquely repugnant figure for a number of reasons. Virginia, however, had many of the same trends that we’re seeing in Alabama, Democratic strength in suburban areas, Democratic strength among young people. These are terrifying trends if you care about the future of the Republican Party.
Judy Woodruff: And, Chris Buskirk, how do you respond to that, I mean, that it’s not just Alabama, but you’re seeing it in Virginia, and we may be seeing it in other parts of the country?
Chris Buskirk: Well, sure, let’s think about Alabama. I mean, does anybody seriously doubt that if Jeff Sessions or Mo Brooks or Richard Shelby was on the ballot yesterday that they would have lost? Of course not.
And so I just — I don’t think we need to do a straight-line extrapolation and expect to get the correct result here. This was — this tells us a lot about Alabama. It tells us a lot about Roy Moore in particularly — in particular.
And I do think it’s a note of caution for Republicans, no doubt. Republicans need to make sure that they vet their candidates and that — and, above all, that they realize that they need to work together if they want to win elections. And that means stop with the — stop letting the ideological civil war that is happening on the right, right now, stop letting it break out into public, particularly during a general election.
That’s just self-destructive.
Judy Woodruff: Michael Steel, is that possible?
Michael Steel: Well, I don’t think it’s a civil war in this case. It was a failure of the president to take responsibility and ensure that the people of Alabama had a better choice.
Conservative voters in Alabama, the vast majority of Alabama voters, deserved a better choice than Roy Moore vs. a Democrat. And had it not been for the president’s support, I think it would have been possible to have another special election called or a credible write-in candidate replace Moore. This was entirely the result of the president’s decision.
Judy Woodruff: Let’s turn to what…
Michael Steel: And it was a bad one.
Judy Woodruff: Excuse me. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Judy Woodruff: You said a bad decision.
Michael Steel: Bad decision.
Judy Woodruff: Stu Rothenberg, let’s turn just quickly to what this means for legislation that’s going to come out in the coming year.
How should, how could this change the Republican approach to the legislation they want to get done? They’re working on tax reform. There are other projects down the line.
Stuart Rothenberg: Well, it’s just one vote that flipped, but one vote is pretty big when the Republicans are struggling to come up with legislation, whether it was health care or now tax reform.
So it certainly could affect that. Look, if the — if it changes the president’s style of governing, if it changes the way he approaches politics, that would be significant. I don’t expect that. We know who and what Donald Trump is.
So I think the Republicans are stuck with a narrower majority in the Senate, a Democratic Party that is euphoric, enthusiastic, and optimistic. And to me, that’s not a good prescription for the Republicans for the next year.
Judy Woodruff: Chris Buskirk, how do you expect President Trump is going to deal with this new landscape?
Chris Buskirk: Yes, well, he’s got a challenge. There’s no doubt about that. As Stu said, he has got one less vote.
I think what’s going to happen now — or at least what I hope would happen, what I would counsel to have happen — is for Republicans in Congress led by the president to focus on — to focus, number one, on getting the tax package through, and then to turn their attention to what I would like to — what I would call small ball.
Let’s get some legislation passed, so they can rack up some wins, but things that matter to the middle class. Focus on jobs and run on jobs in 2018. And put some of the — you know, I do think there is a civil war brewing on the right. But don’t focus on that right now. Let’s focus on wining some elections and doing what voters sent Republicans to Washington to do, which is to represent their interests.
In particular, how do you strengthen the middle class? How do you grow the middle class? Those are things people care about. Those things all got submerged in Alabama, and they shouldn’t, because that’s what people really care about.
Judy Woodruff: Michael Steel, how do you see the congressional future for the Republicans? And we have somebody who just — was just there for a long time.
Michael Steel: Yes, I think it’s actually going to make less of a difference in the next year than you would think.
The Senate has two modes. Either things require basically 60 votes to pass, a supermajority, or 50 votes with the so-called reconciliation procedure, which is what the tax reform is proceeding under. That’s where partisan votes matter. That’s where the narrower Senate majority makes a difference.
I would be very surprised if we had major legislation moving under reconciliation rules next year. Therefore, it’s going to be something like a larger, more popular majority.
So it’s not going to make that big a difference on the margins what we will be doing. At the same time, we should remember, when we talk about this divisiveness on the right, that there would be four or five more Senate Republicans if we had not had divisive, pointless primaries that wound up with unacceptable candidates.
Judy Woodruff: All right, final quick question for each one of you. Does this mean the Democrats could take back the House and Senate next year?
Stuart Rothenberg: The House is certainly in play, and this at least gives a theoretical possibility for the Senate to be in play, sure, absolutely.
Judy Woodruff: Chris Buskirk?
Chris Buskirk: Yes, I think it’s possible. I still think it’s a long shot, but it’s the Republicans’ race to lose. But we have seen Republicans lose races they shouldn’t.
Michael Steel: Yes, I think the math is very much against it in the Senate. And it’s going to be an uphill fight in the House. I think we will continue to have Republican majorities next year.
Judy Woodruff: Michael Steel, Chris Buskirk, Stu Rothenberg, thank you all.
Stuart Rothenberg: Thanks, Judy.
Chris Buskirk: Thanks.