Voters Have Limits on Villainy

All sorts of bad things may happen in the U.S. Senate as a result of Alabama voters’ decision to send Doug Jones there.

But on Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of conservatives in that state decided they had to do what they believed to be right for now. They’ll deal with the future when it happens.

It’s often risky to draw sweeping conclusions about people based on election returns. But what happened Tuesday was strikingly obvious — and it may hold lessons for candidates elsewhere in the future.

As a Democrat, Jones should have been defeated soundly in the state that last year gave Donald Trump nearly twice as many votes for president as were received by Hillary Clinton. But that was before allegations that, while in his 30s, Republican Roy Moore engaged in sexual harassment — and perhaps outright assault — of teenaged girls.

On Tuesday, Jones won with about 50 percent of the vote to Moore’s 48 percent.

At first glance, that hardly seems like a mass repudiation of Moore. Take a second look. Here’s what happened:

Most Democrats who supported Clinton last year turned out again to vote for Jones. According to unofficial returns, he received 671,151 votes. Clinton netted 718,084 last fall.

But Moore was able to get his name checked on just 650,436 ballots — less than half as many as Trump in 2016.

County-by-county results show the same trend, with Jones receiving about the same number of votes as Clinton did last year, while Moore could scrap up only half what Trump did.

Clearly, about half the staunch GOP supporters in Alabama were unable to hold their noses and vote for Moore. The sexual harassment allegations have to be what kept them home.

Wait, you say. There have been allegations against Trump, too. So how come Alabamians backed him and not Moore?

Simple: Trump has been accused primarily of belittling women verbally. Any actual harassment allegations involved adults.

Moore, on the other hand, has been accused of getting physical with teenaged girls. Big difference. Victimizing anyone is wrong, but when you target kids, people tend to get more upset.

That’s a lesson would-be candidates with skeletons in their closets would be well-advised to heed. If you’ve done something bad, voter outrage will be in proportion to the helplessness of those you wronged.

What about those who accuse Moore of wrongdoing? He and his core supporters insist he has been a victim of politically motivated lies.

Indeed, what little physical evidence there is against him is suspect. The infamous inscription in one alleged victim’s high school yearbook has been shown to be a fake.

Will Moore file defamation lawsuits against his accusers? If they’re lying, they have deprived him of a seat in the U.S. Senate, beyond any reasonable doubt. It will be interesting to see whether he uses lawsuits to back up his contention, or drops the matter.

Here’s hoping we learn more about it, one way or another.

About half the conservative voters in Alabama decided that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Give them credit for making a tough decision. Why was it difficult? Because Jones is very liberal on some social issues, including abortion. Sending him to the Senate risks policy outcomes that could — put yourself in the shoes of someone who sincerely believes abortion is murdering babies — have truly terrible ramifications.

Give some credit, then, to those who did vote for Moore. Many of them believe sincerely that they did the right thing.

The bottom line politically is this: Voters will excuse some villainy in the interest of the greater good. But they draw a line, and woe be unto the candidate anywhere who crosses it.

Myer can be reached at: