Ambush game

By all accounts, Alabama is a deeply Republican state that elects few Democrats, until last Tuesday, that is. The Democrat beat Republican candidate Roy Moore by just 1.5 percent, a close race despite stories of Moore allegedly trying to pick up girls under 17 at the mall. His trolling allegedly occurred about 40 years ago when he was in his '30s.

Republicans never considered Moore to be a traditional Republican. He was fiercely Christian and as a judge, refused to follow the law by publicly displaying the 10 commandments from the Bible on public property and disobeyed higher-court rulings to implement same-sex-marriage protections.

In the Republican primary, he defeated the "mainstream" Republican candidate, just as Donald Trump defeated his mainstream opponents, albeit with a different "alternative" philosophy. Trump endorsed one of Moore's primary opponents. Still, Trump ended up supporting Moore when given the Democrat alternative (just as many mainstream Republicans did for him against H. Clinton.)

After the Republican Senate primary, Moore looked like a shoe-in, but then allegations were raised about his predatory sexual behavior in the 1970s. Supporters of Moore complained about the forty-year-old accusations, and the fact that Moore had run in several elections without any of this information coming to light, but times have quickly evolved to look anew at past behavior and judge it differently. The problem is not that Moore had to go (either through withdrawal or defeat at the ballot box), but that a majority of voters are not being faithfully represented by the election of Moore's default opponent, one who would likely not have beaten any of Moore's serious Republican primary opponents.

In other words, this isn't about the Alabama electorate having a change of thought or heart on policy, and deciding to elect an ally of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to represent them. And it isn't about a flawed candidate who is elected to represent voters despite his flaws. In those cases, voters make a judgment and we have an election to affirm or reject that judgment. Instead, this was about an error in timing, one that doesn't allow for substitutions at the last minute because that could also produce unfair unintended consequences.

If this is just a rare and random occurrence, we might just have to accept it as an occasional flaw in an otherwise good system. We have over 500 elected national representatives in Congress and maybe an errant Republican is offset by an errant Democrat. But what if something else happened that doesn't make this a random event?

Imagine instead a scenario when damaging information is held back (perhaps for legitimate reasons) but then released during a time designed to cause maximum mischief? What if these accusations would only be used to derail someone running for national office?

Some people obviously knew about the Trump "Access Hollywood" tape yet it wasn't released until he was the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. What if it's release was held up until there was no viable alternative, thereby giving his opponent an unfair advantage?

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that the person committing the wrongdoing should be shielded from his misdeeds. I'm suggesting that these final-hour revelations are exploiting a flaw in our election system which focuses voters on two alternative visions embodied by the two remaining candidates, and then makes (or attempts to make) one of the candidates unviable, leaving voters with just one remaining choice. Is that type of manipulation ethical?

Late-release information might also be a by-product of the higher level of competition, and not a conspiracy by super puppetmasters who have this damning information on lots of people and just wait until they aspire to higher office. It could be that victims reassess their decision to go public based on the higher office being sought by the wrongdoer. But even if there is no plot being unhatched, the effect is the same and the harm to our democracy is the same. Voters are not able to separate the candidate with the right philosophy (for them, as a voter) from the personal misconduct which would otherwise make the candidate not viable.

In the Bill Clinton case, we had public accusations of sexual misconduct and even allegations of rape prior to his election to national office. Voters chose to ignore this information and elect him anyway. I would hope that voters wouldn't elect Bill Clinton as dogcatcher now, but Democrats are often willing to overlook misconduct by this creep and continue to celebrate him to this day. While Hillary was not culpable for Bill's acts, she did actively participate in the coverup. Well, at least she is loyal.

Let's look at the Donald Trump-Russian collusion story as another example. There has been no evidence of "wrongdoing" by the Trump campaign, yet at the eleventh hour during the Presidential election, these allegations were made to cast a pall over voting for Trump. Was he being controlled by the Russians in some secret deal? Did they hold power over him because they illegally helped elect him to office? Instead, we are learning that the Trump campaign got some forwarded emails and had some meetings about getting dirt on their competition. Nothing remotely illegal there. Just like there was nothing illegal about the Democrats hiring Fusion to compile opposition research on Trump, and then attempting to cover their tracks. Meeting with people and doing research are fine. No "red lines" were crossed by either campaign in these cases. (The FBIs involvement in this could be another matter, but that has nothing to do with the campaigns' staff.)

Voters recognized from Trump's personality that he simply wasn't controllable by anyone, let alone the Russians. This guy has an ego the size of a bus and his inane tweets are proof. Russian collusion is the last thing voters should be concerned about as far as Trump is concerned. (A president Clinton would have been another matter, ironically.) So if there was an effort to ambush Trump with damning innuendo right before the election, so as to limit voters options and force a vote for his opponent, it failed. But was it attempted? Why didn't that Access Hollywood tape came out early on in the primary, when voters could have substituted another candidate had they seen fit?

Does anyone remember former Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska? My recollection is that he was charged with crimes right before the election, which he was projected to win, and then he lost. Afterwards, it turned out the prosecution was withholding evidence that would have exonerated him. All is fair in love and politics? Or did voters have their first choice removed when it was too late to find a substitute?

Now let's contrast the Alabama special election with Massachusetts' election in 2010 that elected Scott Brown to succeed John Kerry. Massachusetts is a Democrat stronghold which overwhelmingly should have elected the Democrat, Martha Coakley. In a normal election, it would have. But voters cast their votes with Obamacare in mind and voted to elect Brown to be the 41st vote against Obamacare. Turns out the Democrats in Congress didn't need to revote Obamacare's approval and so were able to implement it without a vote by Brown. But the point is that Massachusetts voters chose Brown over Coakley based on legitimate factors. Had Coakley been outed as a serial killer days before the election, on information that was known to a select few but withheld until the primary races had been determined and then released to advantage Brown, the results would have been unfortunate. The victims would not just have been Coakley's opponents in her primary, but the voters as a whole.

I'm not saying "Roy Moore" should have won in Alabama. I'm saying that a Republican probably should have won, but when voters are given a choice between two flawed candidates, they may pick the lesser of two evils. But when one of the flaws is discovered late in the election process, we may have a subversion of democracy occurring instead, and if this is "by design," we have a very serious problem.

Many voters apparently stuck with Moore despite these last-minute revelations. And I think it's not because they condone his prior alleged conduct, but because they see the inherent flaw in our election process and are balancing their vote because of it. But many Republicans were so disgusted that they just didn't vote, and now all Alabamians will have six years of representation that is not aligned with most of their beliefs. This isn't necessarily a just outcome either.

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Comments

A Hatch job

Allen, your post left out the former FBI director Comey's last-minute "revelation" of "new evidence" on that e-mail issue. Right before election day, based on what turned out to be nothing at all. And in direct violation of the Hatch Act.

It may also not be as easy as pinning all of this on one factor. Here are some other issues that might be in play, most likely simultaneously:

1. Voter suppression. The data show, for example, that while many white voters stayed home in Alabama on election day, many more African Americans came out to vote. What if the result is not such a big distortion of the demographics, after all? If moderate Republicans abstained, or decided to write in someone else, or voted for the Democrat, perhaps that's representative of the population's thinking after all?

2. Gerrymandering. That is, the legal way to suppress votes. There are some interesting cases in front of judges right now.

3. To many who vote based on faith, that factor might over-ride everything else. Some general elections ago, I saw an educated* gentleman from Texas say on a BBC forum that he and his family will always vote Republican based on their faith, come what may. I'd be wary of giving such people too much credit for analyzing the flaws of the election system :-)

*By "educated", I mean one who (in this case) had a PhD in STEM. Personally, I believe that earning degrees does not constitute "education".

Election interference

Having a politicized FBI (or any government agency, like the IRS) is extremely problematic. We don't want and shouldn't tolerate government employees using their positions to advance political agendas.

Comey's multiple interferences in the election probably ended up hurting Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton. Most Republicans believe H. Clinton violated the law multiple times, but Comey took the highly unusual step of publicly vindicating her, and legally clearing her by terming her security violations as careless rather than negligent.

We are now learning that this was perhaps an FBI strategy to give the advantage to Clinton. We know now that his finding was changed to lessen her apparent guilty conduct, that a section admitting that up to five foreign governments probably hacked into her server to steal classified information had been removed, and that several FBI agents had put in writing their attempts to help Clinton or prevent Trump. We also know that the discredited dossier on Trump created by Fusion GPS may have been partly funded not just by the Clinton campaign but by the FBI and that it may have been used to obtain illegal wiretaps of the Trump campaign by the Obama Justice Department. One of the FBI agent's wife actually worked for Fusion GPS! You can't make this stuff up.

If you are instead referring to Comey's 11th hour revelation that they were opening up the inquiry because of additional emails found (I think on Anthony Weiner's laptop?), that is true, but just a few days later and still before the election, he publicly exonerated her again. Even if the final exoneration was not as damaging as the reopening, both are completely overshadowed by the first whitewashing of her illegal personal server.

I would argue that this is not an example that goes to the heart of my article, because the broad strokes of this were well known to everyone. Clinton's email server was known to Democrat primary voters and may be the reason why Bernie did so well despite being a socialist. And there were rumblings of discontent at anointing Clinton with so much baggage. Democrat voters were able to weigh all this when they cast their primary ballot.

The fact that the DNC had been compromised by the Clinton campaign and that Clinton loyalists were giving Hillary debate questions in advance, etc., is up to the Democrat Party to investigate and fix.

As far as Gerrymandering goes, both parties do it, and it may be a natural function of a democracy. Some democracies give extra power to winning parties so they can govern effectively and so coalition government is minimized. We have some similar systems in our democracy. Having just two major parties helps this process (but does not entirely prevent third-party candidates.)

I'm not sure I get your final point. Voters can pick candidates they want for any reason under the sun. Maybe they like the candidate's haircut or maybe the candidate reminds them of Aunt Mabel. Many voters pick candidates with the same ethnicity as themselves. In my opinion, that's a terrible reason, but it is well known and has been demonstrated time and again. How is picking someone because of their religious affiliation (or the perception that a particular party is more aligned with their religious affiliation) any different?

Thanks again for writing!

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and publisher of the Acton Forum.