Alabama, Despite History of Unruly Politics, Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This’
While Republicans in Washington have fruitlessly sought any way to exorcise Mr. Moore from the race, alarmed that he would imperil their narrow Senate majority, their nominee has all but laughed at his own party.
In the last few months, he has implied that the liberal Jewish billionaire George Soros was going to hell, warned in a tweet of “Democrat operatives” who are “REGISTERING THOUSANDS OF FELONS” — with a link to a story that pictured a pair of black men with paperwork — and told an African-American attendee at one of his events that America was last great when families were intact during the slavery era. That follows claims he made in previous years that Muslims should not be allowed to hold office and that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
When Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, appeared at a rally for Mr. Moore near the Gulf Coast last week, Mr. Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, tweeted: “We don’t need an outside agitator like Steve Bannon carpetbagging in Alabama,” invoking loaded phrases from the civil rights movement and Reconstruction in a single sentence.
“They’re pulling out all the old classics for this one,” said Gordon Harvey, a history professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
While Mr. Jones has not said anything nearly as incendiary as Mr. Moore has, he has attempted some political jujitsu amid the campaign’s racial politics, sending out a mailer featuring an African-American that read: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a senator?”
No, Mr. Browder said, he had simply never seen so many volatile elements packed into a political moment. Then he thought for a minute.
“I see parallels with one,” he said. “George Wallace.”
Wallace, the fiery segregationist governor, comes up often here these days. He was by turns an avid boxer, a circuit judge with lofty ambitions, a state leader who blatantly flouted federal authority, a symbol of defiance to the direction of the national culture, a hero to many rural and small-town whites and a politician who ran national campaigns on a promise to “send them a message” — all descriptions that perfectly fit Mr. Moore.
Mr. Wallace was a Democrat, and his use of race was far more overt and central. Yet when political veterans are pushed to come up with analogous races, they often turn to Wallace’s successful 1970 run for governor, where he took on, as a national newspaper column put it, “an unholy coalition of the Republican and Democratic national parties, militant blacks and country club millionaires, the White House and Alabama liberals.” Aside from the White House, at least since President Trump endorsed his candidacy, this is much the same crowd that Mr. Moore has taken on.
Still, those who knew Wallace well are quick to point out that the messages may be delivered in much the same style, but the messengers are not so alike.
“There’s a major difference,” said former Gov. Jim Folsom, a Democrat whose father, the two-term governor “Big Jim” Folsom, was a mentor to a young Wallace.
The elder Folsom elevated an Alabama tradition of tub-thumping economic populism in a state dominated for much of its history by a coterie of wealthy planters and industrialists, known as the Big Mules. While Folsom railed against the elite-owned “lyin’ newspapers,” much like Wallace and right-wing populists today, he championed women and blacks along with poor whites.
Wallace followed Folsom’s lead until he discovered that a moderate line on race had become a liability in Alabama electoral politics — and then switched to become a fire-breathing segregationist.
“The major difference,” Mr. Folsom said, “is that Roy Moore, good or bad or whatever you think, has always been genuine in his positions.”
While Wallace championed a brand of patriotism attuned to the grievances of angry whites, Mr. Moore’s positions — that, for instance, the United States might be “the focus of evil” in the world because it allows same-sex marriage — show someone dialed in more to fervent evangelicals than the broader conservative electorate.
“Wallace certainly was willing to use the school prayer issue, but by and large he never mentioned the fact he was a lifelong Methodist, never mentioned his faith on the stump,” said Dan T. Carter, a historian who wrote one of the leading Wallace biographies.
Since the first women accused Mr. Moore of misconduct in The Washington Post, Mr. Moore has kept a light schedule and largely avoided interaction with the news media, a strategy that would have never occurred to Wallace, who relished the political fray and would gleefully joust with out-of-town reporters.
Still, what the two may have most in common are their fans and their enemies.
“When you look at his followers,” said John Knight, a black Alabama state representative who grew up in segregated Montgomery, “they’re the same people that were energized by Wallace.”
The same people are outraged, too.
Upper-class, typically Republican neighborhoods “where the rich folks live in the suburbs up across the mountain from Birmingham,” as Wallace described the enclave of Mountain Brook during that epic 1970 race, are now crowded with white “Doug Jones for Senate” signs. To talk to many residents of these neighborhoods is to inevitably find two attitudes: assurances that they will be voting for Mr. Jones and a fatalistic certitude that, of course, Mr. Moore will win.
Thomas T. Gallion III, a Montgomery lawyer whose father was the state’s attorney general, voiced the often unstated perspective of Alabama’s elite as to why Mr. Moore was viable.
“The rest of the state is in a time warp,” he said. “They never progressed out of the ’50s. They don’t think. It’s sad.”
Yet as with Alabama populist campaigns past, Moore backers are most eager to remind voters how many forces outside the state are pulling for Mr. Jones.
It is “the language that works,” Mr. Carter said. “If you can tag somebody an outsider, you’re two-thirds of the way there in Alabama.”
This is an age-old Southern populist tactic, added Mickey Griffin, a real estate executive who was the political director on Wallace’s 1972 and 1976 presidential bids.
“It goes back to the Civil War, it goes back to Reconstruction,” he said. “The big thing down here is that folks feel like the rest of the country is making fun of them.”
Mr. Griffin does not see Mr. Moore as “anywhere close to being a George Wallace,” but he sees him trying to make the same appeal to a fighting instinct and umbrage at being looked down upon.
In the midst of a two-hour phone conversation about the Wallace era and the current campaign, Mr. Griffin got a call from a friend on the other line. “What do you think about Roy Moore?” he asked, and then laughed at the response. “‘He’s an embarrassment to the state of Alabama following in a long line of embarrassments,’” Mr. Griffin reported the friend as saying. “‘But he’s our son of a bitch, and I’m voting for him.’”
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December 9, 2017 at 03:48PMNo tags for this post.