Special Briefing: Can Republicans Solve Their Roy Moore Problem?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The special election in Alabama is less than one month away, and Republicans are scrambling to figure out what to do about Moore.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Who is Roy Moore? Moore is the controversial 70-year-old Republican candidate for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions III. To his supporters, Moore is a champion of the Christian faith and a thorn in the side of the Washington establishment. To his detractors, he is a sanctimonious firebrand who believes that homosexuality should be illegal, that 9/11 was a punishment from God, and who now is also an accused child molester.
What has Moore been accused of? Last week, The Washington Post reported allegations from four women, including one who was 14 years old at the time, that Moore pursued relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. A fifth woman came forward on Monday, saying Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16. Moore has denied the allegations and threatened to sue the Post.
Why does it matter? The special election in Alabama is less than one month away, and Republicans are scrambling to figure out what to do about Moore. The former judge, who has twice been removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court for defying federal orders, shows no signs of stepping aside. Moore continues to campaign, calling the allegations “fake news” designed to derail his mission of bringing “the truth about God to our capital.”
WHAT TO KNOW
The crimson slide. The initial response to the allegations by Moore and his defenders only made matters worse. Rather than denying the allegations outright, Moore told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he could not “remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” Meanwhile Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler deployed the Bible to justify Moore’s conduct. “Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” he noted. “They became parents of Jesus.”
What will the neighbors think? According to a Morning Consult/Politico poll, 60 percent of those surveyed find the allegations against Moore credible, and 50 percent of Republican voters nationwide believe he should drop out of the Senate race. But most Alabama Republicans continue to back Moore, who still leads Democrat Doug Jones in the polls, with 37 percent of the state’s evangelicals claiming they are more likely to vote for Moore following the allegations.
Caught between a rock and the White House. The Republican National Committee has ceased backing Moore’s campaign, and several Republican leaders have called on Moore to end it. “I believe the women,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Republicans lining up behind Moore’s accusers, however, are already facing difficult questions regarding whether they believe the women who accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault last year. Meanwhile, as more current and former female members of Congress come forward with sexual harassment allegations against their colleagues, congressional leaders are also moving to implement mandatory sexual harassment training.
Collateral damage. Moore’s alleged misdeeds are causing problems beyond Washington. Hannity of Fox News, who lost several corporate sponsors after his show seemingly questioned the motives of Moore’s accusers, has since apologized for those initial remarks and is now demanding that Moore explain “inconsistencies.” Many liberals are revisiting their defense of former President Bill Clinton against allegations of sexual misconduct during the 1990s. And former White House adviser Steve Bannon and his website, Breitbart News, are under fire for doubling down on Moore, including by sending reporters to Alabama to discredit his accusers.
Thinking outside the ballot box. Facing the real possibility that Moore could win the election next month, his potential Senate colleagues are exploring the possibility of expelling him with a two-thirds vote — a measure not taken since 14 Confederates were expelled from the body during the Civil War. To block Moore’s path to the Senate, the state Republican Party could also withdraw the party’s nomination or Republican Gov. Kay Ivey could delay the election, though both moves risk infuriating voters and/or sparking lawsuits.
WHAT TO READ
Roy Moore’s Alleged Pursuit of a Young Girl Is the Symptom of a Larger Problem in Evangelical Circles, by Kathryn Brightbill in the Los Angeles Times
“The evangelical world is overdue for a reckoning. Women raised in evangelicalism and fundamentalism have for years discussed the normalization of child sexual abuse.”
Would Republicans Be Better Off if the Democrat Won In Alabama? by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight
“But let’s not neglect the much greater consequence, which is that Republicans — if they didn’t expel Moore — would be seen as aiding and abetting, or at least tolerating, someone who has credibly been accused of being a serial child molester.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Roy Moore Accuser: I Tried Fighting Him Off
“I was twisting and I was struggling and I was begging him to stop. I had tears running down my face.”
Watch on CNN:
Alabama Residents React to Roy Moore Allegations
“It’s someone that’s trying to cook up a story. Any allegations that are made will not change my perception of Roy Moore.”
Watch on The Washington Post:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Could President Trump kill two scandals with one stone? If Attorney General Jeff Sessions were to return to his old Alabama Senate seat (via write-in candidacy or appointment after a Moore expulsion), then the president could nominate another attorney general to take his place — one not recused from the Russia investigation who could in turn pull the plug on special counsel Robert Mueller by repealing the regulations that govern his appointment.