Roy Moore Might Take the Republican Party Down with Him

Accusations that he sexually assaulted teens and harassed women haven't kept him from dropping out—even as other Republicans root for him to lose.
November 16, 2017, 5:00am

If anyone says they know how the Alabama Senate race is going, they're lying. Republican Roy Moore, a far-right Christian whose views would make him one of the most extreme legislators in America, is mired in scandal after being accused by multiple women of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers, and by another woman (who came forward Wednesday) of being groped by him when she visited his law office. Alabama is so Republican, however, that he still has a good chance of winning—Democrat Doug Jones is no Bernie Sanders, but his generally left-of-center, pro-choice views may make it impossible for him to get 50 percent of the vote in the state. At the same time, Moore is so toxic that it's become increasingly clear his own party has no idea what to do with him.

On Wednesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) released a post-scandal poll showing Moore was down by 12 points to Jones. That's a clear outlier—two out of three polls conducted after he was accused of dating and sexually assaulting minors have Moore with a lead—but it's reflective of how radioactive the horse-riding culture warrior has become. The Republican National Committee has pulled its support from his campaign, as has the NRSC, and most prominent GOP leaders have denounced him. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the former judge was "obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate." Even Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who has become the voice of the GOP id and who expressed support for Moore after the first story on his alleged predation came out, is skeptical, saying on his show Tuesday he'd give the candidate a day to "come up with a satisfactory explanation" for the allegations against him.

Plans for how to stop Moore from entering the Senate have become increasingly desperate and baroque. A few days ago, Republicans were considering rescheduling the election, which Governor Kay Ivey could do under state law. (She said she wouldn't do it.) Fresher ideas include the McConnell-hatched suggestion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions—whose cabinet appointment is the reason for this election in the first place—could run a write-in for his old seat, but Sessions hasn't said he'd do it. Senate Republicans could also refuse to allow Moore to serve in the Senate thanks to a Constitutional provision that lets Congress kick out members, but that move would be unprecedented since the Civil War era, and probably require an ethics investigation into the women's allegations.

As Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight noted Wednesday, four weeks out from the election, the GOP has several options, all of them bad. A write-in campaign (whether it's for Sessions or Luther Strange, the temporary appointee currently occupying the seat who lost to Moore in the primary) might split the Republican vote and hand the seat to Jones. Expelling him from the Senate is a so-crazy-it-might-work idea but it would result in another election—and what if Moore runs and wins again? And if Moore wins, he'll be a symbol of immorality and toxicity that the Democrats will hang around the neck of every Republican candidate in the 2018 midterms. (And presumably, at least some Republican senators plain don't want him as a coworker.)

Moore is not someone who has ever cared what people in Washington, DC, think, however. He was twice elected as a state judge in Alabama and twice removed from his post for defying federal courts—first for refusing to order the removal a monument to the Ten Commandments, then later for proclaiming that Alabama (and its courts) didn't need to recognize the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. So in the face of serious allegations of sexual assault and the denunciation of national Republicans, it's no surprise this guy is digging in:

The election, which will be held on December 12 unless it is rescheduled (at this point, who knows?), is shaping up to be not just a contest between a fundamentalist Republican and a mainstream Democrat, but between the national GOP leadership and the base of the party in one of America's reddest states. That base—which has been at a boiling point since Barack Obama's first term—already nominated Donald Trump over the wishes of most party elders, and would arguably send an even stronger message by catapulting Moore to DC. It would validate a theory, voiced most memorably by Republican Congressman Thomas Massie, that some Republican voters support "the craziest son of a bitch in the race" regardless of ideology or policy.

The one figure who could maybe put an end to the mini-civil war swirling around Moore is Trump himself. If he publicly condemned the candidate, it would carry more weight than similar statements from McConnell, who is an unpopular figure in far-right Republican circles. But so far, Trump hasn't made a call either way.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.