McConnell Gambled on Health Care and the Alabama Senate Race. He Lost.

But that story line never broke through. In fact, the race spotlighted growing divisions between establishment Republicans personified by Mr. McConnell and his allies and Trump Republicans, even though it was Mr. Strange who had the president’s endorsement.

The gap was so wide that when Mr. Trump campaigned for Mr. Strange, he tried to distance Mr. Strange from Mr. McConnell.

“They say he’s friendly with Mitch — he doesn’t even know Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Trump told a raucous crowd of several thousand people.

That wasn’t quite true. The Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee that Mr. McConnell helped found, spent nearly $9 million trying to elect Mr. Strange, said Steven Law, its president and chief executive officer.

With Democrats across the country energized by the election of Mr. Trump, some analysts say Democrats now have an outside chance to pick up the seat — even in a deeply conservative state like Alabama. But if Mr. Moore wins, he will almost certainly be a wild card in the Senate, where Mr. McConnell is already struggling to keep his majority of 52 Republicans in line.

“The stakes here are high,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who is close to Mr. McConnell. “His majority of 52 is slim and it’s even slimmer when you consider at any given time there are four to six of them who are contrarians. So if you take out a Luther, who is not a contrarian, and you throw in a Roy Moore, who’s going to be a contrarian, that makes the majority even less effective and productive.”

And it could get worse — much worse. Buoyed by Mr. Moore’s victory, conservatives like the former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, now speak of separating “Trumpism” from Mr. Trump, and they are throwing themselves behind insurgent populists around the country.

Already, “Trumpist” candidates have emerged to challenge Senators Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona in Republican primaries next year. Mr. Bannon is courting another firebrand, State Senator Chris McDaniel, to challenge Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who embodies low-key country-club Republicanism.

And Mr. Bannon and allies are looking for a populist candidate to run for Tennessee’s Senate seat, which opened up Tuesday when Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, announced that he would not run for re-election.

Victories by such candidates would drastically remake the Senate, and could threaten Mr. McConnell’s leadership.

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Source: New York Times

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