MOBILE, AL — Poor Doug Jones. Like so many politicians, he seems either unable or unwilling to concede the dismal election landscape in which he finds himself. He seems to believe that he can survive in this crimson-red, Trump-loving state.
The only Democratic U.S. senator from the Deep South and the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in 25 years, Jones won a special election in December 2017 only because Alabama Republicans chose a singularly repugnant nominee, Roy Moore. But Jones is easily the most vulnerable senator up for re-election in 2020, and he is quite unlikely to prevail.
That’s why it makes no sense for him to dither over his vote in President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial. A former federal prosecutor, the Alabama senator knows perfectly well that the president has committed offenses that cry out for his removal from office. Jones should vote to oust him and accept his impending defeat with his principles and dignity intact.
Yet, he has postured and posed as a possible Democratic defector, suggesting that he sees reasons to vote against ouster as well as reasons to vote for it. “I’m trying to see if the dots get connected,” he said in a December interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
Not only are the dots connected, but they also paint a glaring and grim portrait of a president who uses his office for personal gain, who tried to extort a vulnerable ally, Ukraine, to gin up slanderous accusations against a domestic political rival, Joe Biden. If Jones were prosecuting this case in federal court, he would be aggressive in pursuing the case for extortion. He would smell a conviction at hand.
And it doesn’t matter if Jones goes against the wishes of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, anyway. Unless Moore is the nominee — he is seeking the seat again but is unlikely to win the nomination — Jones has less chance of winning than an ice cube of surviving the sidewalk in an Alabama summer.
A passel of Republicans have announced campaigns, most of them eagerly seeking Trump’s endorsement by trying to tie themselves to the president’s ankle. Those include former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has put any pride he retains in cold storage to cozy up to a man who publicly mocked and ridiculed him while Sessions served in his Cabinet. After announcing his bid to win back his old seat, Sessions immediately launched an ad praising Trump for “doing a great job.”
They also include U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who has likewise debased himself trying to win Trump’s endorsement. When a rump group of House Republicans crashed a secure hearing room to interrupt testimony in the impeachment proceedings, Byrne was close to the front of the parade.
There’s a reason Alabama’s Republican politicians are the president’s lap dogs.
In 2015, Trump packed a stadium here, and he remains wildly popular in this state. According to a November Morning Consult poll, 59 percent of Alabama voters approve of the job he is doing — second only to Wyoming. And even before Trump completed a hostile takeover of the GOP, the state had become blood-red.
Just over two years ago, Alabama held a special election to fill the seat vacated by Sessions. Moore, the GOP nominee, was a discredited jurist who remained popular among ultraconservative voters for his defiance of constitutional mandates separating church and state while he was a justice on Alabama’s Supreme Court.
But his campaign was sunk by credible, late-breaking accusations of inappropriate sexual conduct with teenage girls. He lost the backing of enough Republican voters for Jones to eke out a narrow margin of victory. Jones beat Moore by less than 2 percentage points in a state Trump had won by 28 percentage points. That scenario, however, won’t repeat itself.
Jones has been a good senator, aligning himself with progressive positions on issues such as gun laws and reproductive rights while voting with the president about a third of the time. It’s a shame that he is very likely to lose to a Trump lackey. That’s all the more reason, though, for him to do the right thing on the way out.