The Republican Party’s Roy Moore catastrophe, explained

By Andrew Prokop

Moore is facing sexual assault allegations heading into an election with enormous national consequences.

An Alabama special election with enormous import for the closely divided US Senate has been thrown into chaos, as Republican nominee Roy Moore faces allegations of sexual misconduct — and the GOP grapples with how to respond.

Before last week, Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, was best known for his history of fringe views, religious extremism, and refusal to obey federal court orders. But he managed to defeat an establishment favorite in his party’s primary for the seat despite, or perhaps because of, all that.

But on Thursday, the Washington Post’s Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard, and Alice Crites added scandal to the mix by publishing a story in which an Alabama woman alleged on the record that when she was 14 years old, in the late 1970s, Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her. Three other women also told the Post that Moore pursued them romantically in the same period, when Moore was in his early 30s and they were between 16 and 18. (The legal age of consent in Alabama is 16.)

Moore has denied ever dating a 14-year-old and generally called the Post story “false,” but in an appearance on Sean Hannity radio’s show Friday, he “didn’t dispute” that he used to date girls as young as 16, admitting that he “dated a lot of young ladies.”

This doesn’t appear to be the end of things — attorney Gloria Allred has said that on Monday, a new accuser will allege sexual assault from Moore when she was underage. But since some ballots in Alabama have already been printed, it appears that Republicans are stuck with Moore as their candidate in the December 12 election.

All this is taking place within the broader context of two larger political battles. The first is the GOP’s own internal civil war, since Moore has become associated with a faction of outsider challengers backed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who seeks to depose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Second, there’s the battle for control over the closely divided US Senate, which Republicans currently control by a 52-48 margin. Despite Democrats’ hopes of a wave in the 2018 midterms, it’s long been difficult to see how they’d manage to gain the three Senate seats they need to take control, because the map of seats that happen to be up next year is overwhelmingly advantageous for the GOP. But the Alabama seat could change that math, and recent polling has looked promising for the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones.

So though some Republicans are outright condemning Moore and calling on him to step aside, others have tempered their criticism somewhat for fear of losing his seat. Meanwhile, some elements of the right — most notably Bannon’s far-right website Breitbart — are outright defending Moore by attempting to discredit the allegations. And many Alabama voters may well believe them.

Who is Roy Moore?

 Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty
Moore in 2004.

Moore served as a prosecutor and state court judge in Alabama in the 1980s and ’90s, but he first gained national fame after being elected chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court in 2000 — because he installed a large monument to the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building, refused to remove it despite federal court orders, and was removed from office in 2003.

Rather than ignominiously ending Moore’s judicial career, the controversy made him a sort of folk hero among many evangelical activists in the state. And since the chief justice position in Alabama is an elected one, that proved very useful to him. In 2012, he ran for his old job again and won it back. He then refused to enforce the US Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, was suspended from the bench again, and chose to resign earlier this year.

Moore then set his sights on the US Senate seat that had, until this year, been filled by Jeff Sessions. After Sessions’s confirmation as attorney general, Alabama’s then-governor, Robert Bentley, filled the seat with an appointee who was well-liked by the GOP establishment — Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. But Bentley was embroiled in scandal at the time, and questions soon arose about whether there was anything untoward in his appointment of Strange, who was supposed to be investigating him.

Moore correctly perceived that Strange was vulnerable to a primary challenge, and that his own preexisting support base among evangelical activists could help propel him to victory. He led polls throughout, but eventually got an added assist from Steve Bannon, who endorsed him as part of a broader effort to unseat establishment-friendly GOP incumbents.

Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell tried to defeat Moore — McConnell feared he would be a loose cannon who would make it even more difficult to keep the GOP united in the closely divided chamber — and even President Donald Trump endorsed Strange. But it made no matter — Moore won the nomination in a September runoff.

Despite his history of extremist views — he once said Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, once called being gay “detestable,” flagrantly disobeyed federal court orders while chief justice, and just this year asserted to a Vox reporter that some American communities in the Midwest lived under sharia law — he then seemed set to win a relatively easy victory against the Democratic nominee this December.

What, exactly, is being alleged about Roy Moore?

Exclusive: Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32 https://t.co/lsvCr4s0NC

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 9, 2017

After receiving a tip that Moore was believed to have pursued relationships with teenage girls in the past, a team of Washington Post reporters were referred to four women, and eventually convinced them to come forward with their stories.

First, there’s the account of Leigh Corfman, which is …read more

Read more here: The Republican Party’s Roy Moore catastrophe, explained

About the author

Leave a comment