op-ed

#WriteInStrange: A Republican Write-In Campaign Can Beat Roy Moore

Roy Moore Getty Images/Jonathan Bachman

Eddie Zipperer Contributor

Roy Moore will never be a U.S. Senator. Period. Supporting Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election now officially requires voices in your head and a tin foil hat. When your supporters are examining ink colors and performing Sherlock-Holmes-style handwriting analyses in an attempt to prove that multiple media agencies, dozens of corroborating sources, several named accusers and a mysterious unnamed forgery specialist are in top-secret cahoots with Democrats to steal one Senate seat, you’re losing the argument. You’re Napoleon at Waterloo shouting, “Everything will be fine!” You’re Xerxes laughing at the Spartan army because there’s only 300 of them.

There’s no yearbook forgery. There’s no vast left-wing conspiracy. There’s just a former mall creeper and likely sexual predator running for the U.S. Senate.

After losing the support of Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and possibly even Sean Hannity, Roy Moore has one very ironic ally left: fake news.

Moore will either exit the race or he will stick around and watch his poll numbers circle the drain.

But Moore’s backward-spinning altimeter doesn’t mean Alabama has to elect a Democratic senator. Republicans who are not Moore still have a shot at winning the seat. There are a couple weeks for a Republican to wage a write-in campaign. It sounds impossible — the stuff of political pipe dreams — but it’s 2017.  If Kim Kardashian gets a haircut in the morning, the whole world is criticizing it by the afternoon. We live in a communications era where one Trump tweet circles the globe in a day.

In early 2015, there was no such thing as #MAGA, #LockHerUp or #DraintheSwamp.  On that day, I was thinking about the far-off 2016 election, and I wrote this in the Baltimore Sun:

“When all is said and done one rule will prove true: Win Twitter, win the election.”

Back then, I believed that Twitter — and to a lesser degree the other social media platforms — was the most powerful media platform of all time.  After Trump’s Republican primary and general election wins, and after watching him steer the news cycle wherever he wanted it to go, I know it is.

No senator had won a write-in campaign in 56 years until Lisa Murkowski did it in 2010.  Tea Party conservative Joe Miller was on the ballot, and — even while splitting the Republican vote — Murkowski still managed to win with a 39.7 percent plurality. The task would likely be easier in Alabama, a state President Trump won in 2016 by nearly 30 points, and a seat Jeff Sessions won unopposed in 2014.

Disseminating a simple message once required tons of cash and a huge ground campaign, but — as Trump proved in 2016 — social media and word of mouth can bag the same results for free.  That’s how Murkowski won her write-in campaign, and that was without the firepower of the world’s most famous Twitter account. That was before entire news cycles caught hashtag-fever and started to revolve around who tweeted what and who responded.

Patti Epler wrote an excellent piece in the Alaska Dispatch News describing Murkowski’s successful write in bid.

The description kicks off with, “A Democrat who hadn’t been involved in the primary campaign started a ‘Write in Lisa Murkowski’ Facebook page and had 1,000 ‘fans’ within a week.”

Epler describes how all the analysts and strategists said it couldn’t work. Of course, they said that. They were operating on conventional wisdom, an old paradigm that did not account for the otherworldly speed of modern day communication.

Murkowski’s sister, Carol Sturgulewski, points out: “We have things now they didn’t have even a few years ago. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, and blogs.”

She was right. And, in 2017, those things are all more powerful than ever before.

Republicans who are desperate to see a Republican hold Jeff Sessions’s former seat shouldn’t dig their heels in defending Roy Moore, or flush their principles for partisan gain or pretend Moore’s inability to answer simple questions from friendly Sean Hannity without stumbling and bumbling is somehow a creation of the left-wing, Fake News Media.  Instead, they should rally behind a write-in Republican as fast as they can.

One #WriteInStrange tweet from @realdonaldtrump could burn down another political paradigm in Alabama.

Eddie Zipperer is a political science professor at Georgia Military College.