Historians will say that the “Trump bubble” finally burst one day in December 2017. In an astonishing turn of events, the white people’s white president was dealt a knockout blow by black voters, and, even more so, by black female voters. But did the ”Trump bubble,” as The Washington Post called it, really burst Tuesday in Alabama? And it is indeed only a bubble?
It might be a sign of excessive optimism to jump to conclusions after a local election, and to write off Donald Trump and consign him to the history books. Still, in the outcome of these special elections in the most conservative state in the South one can see the unmistakable signs of the presence of all the conditions for a process that would rapidly dispel the phenomenon embodied by the Manhattan tycoon.
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate defeated on Tuesday, was a kind of Trump figure himself on the local stage. Accused of sexually abusing teenage girls, representative of a conservatism bordering on white supremacism and racism, he had been rejected by the Republican establishment in Washington after revelations about his past as a child molester. However, Trump, backed by Steve Bannon, decided to support him in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, the inept and bigoted head of the Justice Department whom the president himself detests for not having shielded him from the Russiagate bombshell.
Trump saw the Alabama election as a test and a challenge: to see how much sway he has over his electoral base (he was chosen by 60 percent of the voters there) even when they are faced with the indecent proposal of a Moore candidacy, to bring rebellious Republican leaders to heel with success, and to teach a lesson to liberals, who are working to hold him accountable for his own sexual harassment accusations and aiming to call for his impeachment. His side’s calculation was based on the assumption that the black electorate — 25 percent of the voters — would mostly not show up to the polls, as it usually does in this kind of election. But not this time. Obama played his part as well, with appeals to go out and vote, as did many black leaders, the NAACP, Jesse Jackson and even none other than Condoleezza Rice.
This event, occurring in a state like Alabama, disproves the theory of an America that, under Trump, is turning its back on the open and multicultural society, and to political correctness, to lend an ear to its most backward and rancorous, racist, xenophobic and misogynistic white component, and so to give Trump the keys to the White House. We must not underestimate what has happened with Trump’s election, but it is also time to assess the actual scope of events and the possibility of reversing course.
Their defeat in Alabama not only dangerously narrows the Republican advantage in the Senate, to only 51-49, but it is also a harbinger of further upsets in the Democrats’ favor in next year’s midterm elections. This situation makes Trump’s position even more fragile, particularly as he faces more and more accusations of sexual harassment, which had already almost taken him out of the race in the final stretch of the presidential campaign.
In the climate of the past few months, after the Weinstein case exploded onto the scene, and with the growth of a movement in public opinion that shows no signs of stopping and that is obviously aiming at the White House, Trump seems increasingly vulnerable. Many have already taken a public stand against him, as the allegations of harassment are being taken seriously and Congress is opening an investigation. Even Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the U.N., and thus with a place among the top officials of the administration, says that the women who accused Trump of harassment must be listened to.
This only further complicates Trump’s situation. Party infighting typically only occurs after a heavy defeat. Now it has the feel of a settling of scores. Despite his departure from the White House, Steve Bannon, the embodiment of the black soul of Trumpism, led the strategy in Alabama, with the idea of laying the foundations of a “president’s party” that would be able to field its own candidates in the upcoming elections, knocking out those of the Republican establishment and creating two ultraconservative congressional groups, fully loyal to their leader. After the failure of this operation, Trump no longer has his Praetorian Guard and has to deal with a Republican Party more interested in its own survival — and holding on to their congressional majority in next year’s November elections — than that of the president.
Is the cohabitation between the president and the Grand Old Party — difficult, and at times overtly confrontational ever since his nomination — still possible?