By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS — When Doug Jones defeated Judge Roy Moore down in Alabama, Democrats picked up a seat in the U.S. Senate and Republicans dodged a bullet.
Because the cheers from most Democrats and progressives were so loud, they drowned out the sighs of relief many Republicans and conservatives exhaled when Moore toppled. Those GOP stalwarts weren’t looking forward to the headaches a Sen. Moore would have brought with him.
There would have been a nasty internal battle within the Republican Party regarding the well-documented allegations Moore sexually harassed and even assaulted teenage girls, at least one under the age of consent, when he was a man in his 30s.
Several GOP senators had demanded an ethics investigation. President Donald Trump — who has his own troubles regarding allegations of sexual misconduct — said he opposed the idea.
It’s difficult to see how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, would have avoided conducting one. To do otherwise would have invited Democrats to label their Republican opponents in next fall’s congressional elections as appeasers and defenders of child molesters.
That’s not a winning campaign strategy.
And if Republicans discovered they’d have to throw a victorious Moore out of the Senate, they’d risk alienating a significant portion of the GOP base.
That’s also not a winning strategy.
In several ways, Doug Jones did Republicans across the country a favor by eking out a narrow victory against Moore.
Jones spared, say, Indiana U.S. Senate Republican candidates such as Mike Braun, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita the indignity of being linked with Moore in attack ads. (The video interview Moore did with a 12-year-old girl alone would have provided endless fodder for hard-hitting spots.)
But Jones also shattered any notion that former presidential special advisor and white nationalist Steve Bannon was competent, much less omnipotent.
The critiques of the work Bannon — who likes to present himself as a latter-day Svengali, a dark genius of the political black arts — has done for Moore and, by extension, Trump, the GOP and the conservative movement have been savage.
Bannon’s critics have called him a moron and a political amateur who couldn’t find his way to the polls without a map and a guide.
That’s not entirely fair.
What Bannon accomplished in Alabama reveals a level of political savvy rarely seen in American history.
In one of the reddest states in America, Bannon identified and supported, without stint, perhaps the only Republican any Alabama Democrat might have had a chance of defeating.
Then, as that solitary beatable Republican candidate went about the process of self-destructing, Bannon decided the act of demolition wasn’t occurring fast enough and didn’t have a large enough scope.
He attacked other Republicans who suggested that maybe, just maybe, embracing a candidate accused of molesting children was neither right nor wise — thus ceding the moral high ground and splitting the party at the same time.
And he encouraged the president of the United States to become actively involved in the campaign, thus reminding Americans afresh of the allegations against Trump and turning a flawed, badly damaged and ultimately defeated state candidacy into a kind of referendum on the Trump presidency.
It takes a special kind of political skill to accomplish all of that.
It’s safe to say that only Steve Bannon could have pulled off a debacle that complete.
He’s now the Dr. Kevorkian of the GOP.
After the votes were counted and it was clear Jones had won, Trump, in a gracious gesture, offered congratulations — a sign, one hopes, that the president has learned a lesson about the limited effectiveness of perpetual pugnacity.
Jones now heads to the Senate. His arrival will increase the leverage of the dwindling band of moderates in that body who spell victory or defeat for tax reform and other Republican and Trump initiatives.
That can produce several outcomes.
One would be to increase the levels of dysfunction in that once-august body.
Another, though, might be that maybe, just maybe, Jones’ arrival will force the members of the Senate to talk and work with each other like … human beings.
It’s the holiday season, you know, a time for fond wishes, however unlikely it is that they will come true.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.