Roy Moore: Lunatic. Bigot. Zealot. Senator?
Why white Alabamans voted for a man who would turn their state into a smoking crater
Roy Moore is many things: an ignorer of laws, a stupendous bigot, a right-wing reactionary — and very probably, a soon-to-be United States senator.
On Tuesday, Alabama held a Republican primary to permanently fill the Senate seat left open when Jeff Sessions became attorney general. Moore easily defeated Luther Strange (who was temporarily appointed senator when Sessions departed), despite endorsements of Strange from the Republican congressional leadership and President Trump. Now Moore goes up against Democrat Doug Jones, a noted U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted Eric Rudolph and the 1963 Birmingham church bombers.
Moore is many things, as I'll explain in more detail below. But what he is most of all is the apotheosis of pure grievance-based white identity politics.
Let's recap Moore's career highlights. In 1999, he became chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court. He didn't last long. In 2003, he flagrantly disobeyed a federal court order to remove a monument displaying the Ten Commandments in his courthouse, and was removed from office by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary in a unanimous vote.
He was elected chief justice again in 2012, and was suspended from office again in 2016 by the same panel, when he flagrantly disobeyed a federal court order to stop instructing Alabama's probate judges to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. This time, the suspension was only until the end of his term in 2019, but since he would be barred from running again due to age, it effectively banned him from the court forever.
So much for law-and-order Republicans. Moore is literally a repeat lawbreaker.
He's also a right-wing lunatic. Moore has suggested that 9/11 and mass shootings are God's punishment for Americans turning away from Christianity. In 2005 he said that homosexuality should be illegal, and refused to say in an interview whether or not he would support the death penalty for such a law. Of course, he also wants to ban gays from the military and cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood.
Moore is stupendously bigoted, particularly against Muslims. He's a committed birther, espousing the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States as late as December of last year. In 2015 his foundation and his wife shared a video declaring that Obama is a Muslim. He wrote a column in 2006 arguing that the House of Representatives should not seat Keith Ellison because he is a Muslim. He holds the crank view that certain communities in America are under Sharia law — though he was unable to name any in an interview with Vox's Jeff Stein.
He's basically a white, Christian version of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: a loony, ferociously reactionary religious zealot, who believes that America should be run along the lines of his own particular brand of evangelical fundamentalism.
But what he does not believe is also telling. He seems to have little interest in the quasi-populist ideas that President Trump ran on during the 2016 campaign. He supports the usual hard-right mixture of a flat tax, balanced budget, and large increases in military spending, and wants an immediate repeal of ObamaCare. (To be fair, he does express opposition to "free trade" agreements, though he doesn't specify which ones.)
Alabama is the fourth-poorest state in the country, and has the sixth-lowest median income. Enacting Moore's budget ideas would mean huge tax hikes on the poor and middle class coupled to huge cuts in domestic programs that Alabamans depend on more than almost any other Americans (and would almost certainly touch off an endless bone-crushing recession). The CBO estimated that a clean repeal of ObamaCare would throw 32 million people off their insurance by 2026, and it's a certainty that Alabamans would get a large helping of that misery.
All this makes Moore a nearly perfect embodiment of how the conservative movement channels white identity grievances into support for policies that benefit no one but the extremely wealthy. His political appeal is entirely based on countering perceived threats to the social status and identity of white conservatives, and not at all on policies that might improve their lives. His voters are whipped into a constant frenzy by Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine — as Alex Pareene writes, "fed apocalyptic paranoia about threats to their liberty, racial hysteria about the generalized menace posed by various groups of brown people, and hysterical lies about the criminal misdeeds of various Democratic politicians." The fact that Roy Moore is a complete nutcase whose policy ideas would turn Alabama into a smoking crater probably can't penetrate this propaganda fog.
Still, as Matt Yglesias argues, Doug Jones is a strong candidate and Democrats should give the Senate election in December their best try — even if it is in a deep-red state. But should Moore win, just remember what this represents: a call to make America a safe space for white conservative snowflakes.