In Alabama's GOP primary, personality beat policy

Alabama Sen primary pits Trump against Bannon
Alabama Sen primary pits Trump against Bannon

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Story highlights

  • Anti-establishment candidate Roy Moore wins Alabama's US Senate runoff to face Democrat
  • Douglas Heye: His victory shows personality beats policy, and that should worry the GOP

Douglas Heye is a CNN political commentator and ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Whether in Washington, Alabama or the 2016 primaries, the force of personality has come to outweigh the demand for specific solutions to our nation's challenges.

Volume -- and anger -- turned up high are what tend to get rewarded. For Republicans hoping to build a long-term GOP majority, that should be troubling.
Douglas Heye
Democrats, however, are relishing the victory of Roy Moore -- the insurgent who won Alabama's US Senate runoff Tuesday night.
    Democrats knew the nomination of a candidate such as Moore, who trails controversy and was backed by Stephen Bannon, Sarah Palin and others, can help them define Republicans nationally and on December 12 potentially pick up a Senate seat in Alabama they otherwise would have considered a lost cause.
    Moore is a former Alabama Supreme Court justice whose controversial statements about President Barack Obama, gays and so on could help put Republican candidates on the defensive the same way that Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana did in their respective, failed 2012 Senate campaigns. (They had made highly controversial comments about rape, abortion and pregnancy.)
    And to be sure, Moore's vanquished opponent, the Trump-backed Luther Strange, came into the race with his own flaws. He was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions by the very (now former) governor he was investigating as Alabama attorney general, Robert Bentley.
    In Alabama, they didn't love Bentley; his popularity was near the bottom nationally and Strange's support from Washington Republicans made him the perfect candidate to be picked off by an anti-establishment figure such as Moore.
    Indeed, Moore's victory was widely predicted despite some closing in the polls in the final week of the campaign. His arrival at the polling place Tuesday morning, astride a galloping horse, could be seen as a pre-victory dance.
    Based on the rhetoric we saw in the closing days of the runoff, Alabama Republicans, regardless of whom they supported, were prepared to vote "no" on Washington.
    Campaign support for Moore's candidacy from Bannon, Palin and even British "Brexit" champion Nigel Farage indicates that the growing GOP divide is less about policy than it is about personality. It also demonstrates how taking "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" either too far or just far enough threatens to tear the Republican Party further apart at a time when it's struggling to advance any kind of meaningful agenda.
    Moore's campaign was more about sticking it to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the "establishment" than anything the candidate might do for his home state.
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    (This predicament might have been avoided had Bentley taken McConnell's reported advice to appoint a woman to the seat. The selection of then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey -- now Alabama's governor -- or hard-working US Rep. Martha Roby might have avoided a full-on civil war.)
    What's more, Bannon's vociferous support of Moore over the Trump-backed candidate may further show that the former White House chief strategist indeed views Donald Trump as a vessel for his priorities more than anything else.
    To be sure, for all of the President's campaigning for Strange (a mixed-blessing, as it turned out) and for all the hand-wringing and money spent in Alabama's Senate special election, the division and undercutting actually rather closely resemble the state of today's Republican Party.