A s polarized and negative as American politics has become, something happened last week that shows there’s still a reservoir of good sense in America’s political system. The U.S. Senate election in Alabama was decided on the basis of character and fitness, not simply party politics, and the result is worth noting.
Over the past several decades, elections in Alabama have been one-sided affairs, with Republican candidates elected by comfortable majorities. That was expected to be the case in the special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. But when the GOP primary nomination went to Roy Moore — a fringe candidate with a dark past — a few brave Republican leaders came forward and essentially said, “No, we’d rather lose a Senate seat than lose our integrity.”
No one deserves greater recognition for the rejection of Moore than Alabama’s senior senator, Richard Shelby, who, at great political risk, came out forcefully against Moore in the crucial final days of the campaign and helped prevent his election.
I’ve been proud to know Senator Shelby as both a colleague and a friend. He has always been a solid conservative who put principle above party. As Alabama’s junior senator — and a Democrat — in the 1990s, he could no longer abide by the leftward drift of the national Democratic Party and became a Republican, where his party matched his convictions. He has always hued closely to his conservative principles, no matter which way the political tides were running.
So when Shelby publicly said he couldn’t vote for Moore, his credibility and seriousness definitely impacted the election result. For that, Shelby has earned accolades as a profile in courage. And he has provided an example that other Republicans should follow.
Conservative members of the party should make no apologies for rejecting fringe candidates who are so far out of the mainstream that they cannot possibly appeal to the broader electorate. In the past few election cycles, these fringe candidates have won GOP nominations for statewide offices only to go down in flames in general elections. In Indiana, a staunchly conservative senator, Richard Lugar, was defeated in the 2012 Republican primary by a far-out right-winger who then went on to lose badly that November. In Delaware and Nevada, where the GOP had an excellent chance to pick up open Senate seats in 2010 and 2016, respectively, the same thing happened: Fringe candidates won primary election battles, only to lose the general election war.
If those three seats were now in GOP hands, the Republican majority in the Senate would not be hanging by such precarious thread, with almost no margin for error. But that’s also why it’s all the more remarkable that GOP leaders were willing to sacrifice another crucial Senate seat rather than sacrifice their principles.
I also agree with Long Island’s own congressman, Peter King, who rightfully took on alt-right guru Steve Bannon for demanding that the GOP drag itself so far over to the fringe that it would have lost the great middle ground that comprises a big swath of America’s political landscape. And the same goes for the Democratic rabble rousers who are always trying to drag their party over to the antifa left. If the two political parties are pulled even more toward their extremes and away from the center, expect the vitriol and gridlock in Washington to continue. They’ll be so far apart that they’ll never be able to meet in the middle and address the very real challenges, both foreign and domestic, that the country faces. And that won’t be good for either party, which means it will be worse yet for America.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.