Next week’s special Senate election in Alabama won’t just tell us about the state of politics in Alabama. It won’t just give us clues to how voters feel about tax reform and the balance of the Supreme Court. It won’t just help decide which political party will control the Senate in a year.
Above all else, the election is showing how tribal American politics has become.
Last month it appeared that there was a line a candidate could not cross and that Republican candidate Roy Moore had crossed it. A number of credible accusers said Moore had inappropriate conduct with them as teenagers. One said Moore had molested her when she was 14 years old.
All the incidents were decades old. Yet Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he believed the women, as did fellow Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Both told him to drop out of the race. Others followed, forcing him to remove the endorsement Web page from his website. Moore even went off the campaign trail for 10 days, just weeks before the Dec. 12 election.
However, Alabama Republicans consistently said something else: They were with Moore. Moore might be accused of being a child molester, but as a CBS poll found over the weekend, half his supporters say he will vote the correct way in the Senate — so they will vote for him.
As for the allegations by the women? Seventy-one percent of Alabama Republicans said they were false.
It is hard to draw big conclusions from Alabama polls because they haven’t been great in the past. Polling the contest between Moore and his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, is even harder because the election is next week, in mid-December, and figuring out who will actually vote can be tough.
Over the weekend two serious polls — conducted by CBS News and The Washington Post — showed Moore up by 6 percent and Moore down by 3 percent, respectively.
The bottom line, however, is this: Moore is still very much in the game and has a good shot of winning.
Which brings us back the tribal nature of our politics. Trump may have been joking when he said that his supporters were so hardcore that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and still have their backing. But Moore could prove that a person can be credibly accused of child molestation and still win a statewide election.
Democrats are tribal, too. There has been no serious movement among Senate Democrats to have their colleagues Al Franken or Bob Menendez resign due to allegations of sexual misconduct and bribery, respectively. In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi gave a master class in tribalism in a national interview when she refused to call on Michigan Representative John Conyers to resign after it was revealed he used taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims by a former staffer. She later changed her position.
As the reality has set in that Moore could actually win, McConnell and President Trump have changed their positions, too. McConnell once said that he would expel Moore from the Senate if he won. Now McConnell is saying Moore’s fate is up to Alabama voters.
And no longer is Trump avoiding saying Moore’s name. On Monday he endorsed Moore on Twitter. The Moore campaign says Trump called the candidate and ended the call with “Go get ’em, Roy.”
After all, Moore and Trump are on the same team. No matter what.James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp