Don’t misinterpret Democratic Senator Doug Jones‘s recent election win as a paradigm shift in Alabama politics. The Republican Party still holds sway in the state: all statewide constitutional offices are held by Republicans; all nine Supreme Court justices are Republicans; and both chambers of the state legislature are ruled by significant Republican majorities. The GOP’s dominance in Alabama isn’t likely to abate any time soon given the state’s deep conservative beliefs.
However, the failure to elect a Republican to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat is exposing some internal disagreements as to the party’s direction and identity in the years ahead, and a turning point in that struggle might come as soon as next week when the ALGOP State Executive Committee meets in Montgomery.
Disagreements between different factions in the Republican Party are nothing new. There has always been a struggle for influence between fiscal and social conservatives, defense hawks and libertarians, and steady-as-she-goes establishment Republicans and burn-it-to-the-ground tea party types. Tension between those of differing beliefs within the “big tent” is natural and probably healthy.
But, disagreement over the Roy Moore election debacle is threatening to turn into disunion. A few in the mostly-older, activist faction are still bitter over the loss and focusing their ire on U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who said he could not vote for Moore and would write-in a “distinguished Republican” after multiple allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by Moore were reported by The Washington Post. A group led by former Cleburne County GOP Chairman Tim Sprayberry is floating a party resolution condemning Shelby for his stance and recently joined with a Texas investor to run robocalls critical of Alabama’s senior senator.
Most believe the resolution will go nowhere given Shelby’s broad support throughout Alabama and immense influence in Washington, to say nothing of how out of touch Republicans would look doubling down on the kind of politics that help cost them the Senate seat in the first place. Many conservatives are thanking Shelby for his principled stand, understanding that the election loss, while disappointing in the short term, is probably in the best interest of the party over the long term because it can be rid of Moore’s political baggage.
Still, Sprayberry isn’t giving up. He’s attempting to whip up support for the resolution ahead of the State Executive Committee meeting on February 24th.
The ALGOP now faces a difficult choice. If it appeases the pro-Moore faction’s desire to criticize Shelby, it will alienate two groups it can ill afford to do without: those who invest in the Republican party and those who are its future.
Big benefactors in Republican politics have not been shy about pushing back against the anti-Shelby resolution. Jimmy Rane, founder, president and CEO of Great Southern Wood called Shelby “one of Alabama’s greatest assets” and publicly asked “why is the Alabama Republican Party doing nothing to help maximize Senator Shelby’s effectiveness” as likely incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“We ought to commend the courage of our senior Senator and enthusiastically support him as he prepares to pick up the gavel of the Appropriations Committee of the United State Senate,” he wrote.
Rane knows what he’s talking about. Most people don’t realize that before he built one of Alabama’s most iconic and successful companies, Rane once worked as a congressional staffer on Capitol Hill. He understands how Washington works and what awesome benefits Alabama could realize with Shelby assuming the Appropriations chairmanship. Of course, now Rane is the state’s wealthiest man and a major contributor to Republican candidates and causes. For him to publicly and specifically call on the ALGOP to drop this resolution is hugely significant.
The future of the party is also pushing back. Young Republicans by and large disagree with the idea of censuring Shelby for his stance on Moore – a stance many of its membership held themselves.
The 40-and-under Young Republican Federation of Alabama withdrew its support for Roy Moore in November, and the Birmingham Young Republicans voted to censure the Senate candidate saying it was “committed to protecting women and children from similar acts of sexual misconduct.”
Jackie Curtiss, state chair of the Young Republicans, said the ALGOP should be focused on winning future elections, not haggling over the last one.
“Instead of learning lessons from the Doug Jones win, some would rather go to infighting and assigning blame,” she said. “You have a handful of people in the party who are stirring up controversy, but there are also many of us who want to defend Senator Shelby and make sure the party moves forward. Young Republicans want the party to be unified because that’s our best chance to win the seat back in 2020.”
The funders and the future of the Republican Party want to move past this dust up and focus on the upcoming 2018 elections. It looks like the ALGOP State Executive Committee will decide whether that can happen when it meets next week.
Todd Stacy is the publisher of the Alabama Daily News, a news aggregation site. His 15-year career in Alabama politics spanned from the State House in Montgomery to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and now informs his political news analysis at www.ALDailyNews.com.