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The Globe and Mail

Alabama proves that appealing to Trump voters is a lost cause. The power is elsewhere

Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media.

In 2012, a man who believed in what he called "legitimate rape" ran for senator of Missouri, the state where I live. Todd Akin, a Republican, was the front-runner until he said rape victims should be denied abortions because, "if it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down." It horrified both my state and my country. Republican women abandoned Mr. Akin in droves, and his opponent, Democrat Claire McCaskill, trounced him at the polls, 54.8 per cent to 39.1 per cent.

Today, Mr. Akin's remark would barely register on the public radar, as a man accused of sexual assault holds the presidency and rancid revelations of brutal misogyny among our elected officials emerge daily. This grotesque plunge in standards led many, including me, to expect Roy Moore to win the Alabama Senate seat. I was thrilled to be wrong.

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Before Tuesday night, Mr. Moore seemed like the embodiment of a government that had forsaken everything decent and good. Mr. Moore is an accused serial child molester who believes America was greatest when it had slavery, a disgraced lawyer who wanted to eliminate every amendment after the 10th and a hypocrite who wrapped his hatred of black, Muslim and LGBTQ citizens in a cloak of cynical piety. He was abetted by the enthusiastic support of Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon, as well as the cowardice of Republican officials, most of whom refused to forthrightly condemn him.

Read more: Democrat Doug Jones scores upset win over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama

Read more: Who is Doug Jones? Things to know about Alabama's new Democratic senator

Mr. Moore represented the simplest kind of moral test for America – "Do you approve of pedophilia? Do you countenance slavery?" – and the Republicans managed to fail it anyway.

Fortunately, the people of Alabama did not – and by that I mean primarily Alabama's black voters, who came out in full force to vote for Democrat Doug Jones, a lawyer best known for his prosecution of Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black church. They came out despite repressive new ID laws designed to suppress their voices. Mr. Jones's win was definitive, but amid widespread reports of disenfranchisement, I suspect that without suppression his margin of victory would have been even higher.

As in Missouri in 2012, some Alabamian Republican women abandoned Mr. Moore on principle. But almost two-thirds of white female voters still backed him, despite his desire to take away their right to vote and his history of preying on teenage girls. Seventy-two per cent of white male voters backed Mr. Moore as well.

Ever since Mr. Trump won the presidency, the voters who supported a confessed sexual predator with a lifetime of scandal have been subject to relentless scrutiny. Some of Mr. Trump's voters seem to regret their choice – his approval numbers have plunged even among his base of white male evangelicals, and he remains the most unpopular president in modern U.S. history. Endless columns have been written about how to reach out to Mr. Trump's die-hard fans and change their minds.

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What the Alabama race demonstrates to Democrats is that attempting to pry away white Trump voters is a bad strategy, both morally and politically. The priority of any representative should be protecting the rights of the most vulnerable – particularly their right to vote, without which all other rights are threatened. The job of an elected official is to serve the entire body politic, something Mr. Moore showed no desire to do. He sought instead to punish certain Alabamians for their mere existence – for things no one can change, such as race or sexual orientation, or for having progressive beliefs to which they are legally entitled. Like the President, Mr. Moore ran on the politics of subjugation, and those who voted for him could do so only because they knew they would not be among the subjugated.

The Alabama Senate race was a national moment of soul-searching, and many Americans are relieved to find that we still have a soul. But Mr. Jones's win was no miracle. The race was won by the determination of organizers, the bravery of women who spoke out, the tenacity of black voters in the face of systemic discrimination and the persuasiveness of Jones's message, which decried corruption and promised representation for all.

Hope does not win elections. Hard work and constant vigilance do. Mr. Jones's win should not put opponents of Mr. Trump at ease, but it should empower them to continue the fight – and brace themselves for another long haul.

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