Fearing a backlash from Roy Moore’s loyal political base, top Alabama Republicans are resisting national calls to push the retired judge out of a key special Senate election set for Dec. 12.
Moore, a 70-year-old, fiery social conservative who enjoys the strong support of evangelicals, is under fire for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls that occurred decades ago.
Calling Moore’s accusers credible despite vehement denials, a growing chorus of Republicans in Congress and in state houses across the country are demanding he step aside. Senate Republicans are threatening to expel Moore if he wins.
But the Republicans actually empowered to sideline Moore, state elected officials and members of the Alabama GOP, appeared uninterested, fretting they might get sacked at the hands of disgruntled Moore supporters.
Perry O. Hooper Jr., a veteran Republican insider in Alabama who led President Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, said GOP insiders there are sticking with Moore.
“The people of this great state are not buying into this gutter-style politics,” Hooper Jr. told the Washington Examiner in a telephone interview. “Roy Moore and his sweet wife and his family are going to have to weather the storm.”
The Alabama Republican Party’s steering committee was to meet in coming days to discuss what to do about Moore. Hooper predicted nothing would come of it, estimating that around 70 percent of the 21-member panel would not abandon him, based on regular conversations with them.
A spokesman for the state GOP did not respond to a message left requesting comment.
But Terry Lathan, the party chairwoman, in an interview with Alabama Political Reporter, threatened to block the future run of any elected member of the party that breaks ranks with Moore and either supports a write-in GOP alternative or backs Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee.
“It would be a serious error for any current elected GOP official or candidate to publicly endorse another party’s candidate, an independent or third-party or a write-in candidate in a general election,” Lathan said.
Republicans in Washington are persisting.
Discussions between GOP insiders in the nation’s capital and their counterparts in Montgomery continued Tuesday. The Republican National Committee appeared to take the extraordinary step of pulling material support for Moore, signaling that President Trump might consider cutting bait.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., floated Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a write-in candidate. Sessions, a popular Alabama Republican, held the contested seat until January, when he resigned to join the Trump administration and triggered the special election to determine a successor.
“The name being most often discussed may not be available, but the Alabamian who would fit that standard would be the attorney general,” McConnell told a Wall Street Journal conference, regarding the sort of candidate he’s looking for to jump into the race at the 11th hour. “He’s totally well known and is extremely popular.”
Privately, Republicans concede that this, and most options for neutralizing Moore are unrealistic, and that they are likely saddled with him as their nominee, unless he accedes to pressure and voluntarily drops out. Other politicians might relent. Moore is used to this kind of controversy, and has often thrived on it, fueled by the strain of anti-establishment sentiment that runs strong in Republican circles in the state.
Moore was removed as the elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court — twice — because he refused to enforce federal court rulings that conflicted with his principles. This is different though. Moore is facing allegations of sexual misconduct. But it still fits neatly with the image of political martyrdom and persecution Moore has used to cultivate an uncommonly loyal voting base.
They helped carry Moore to victory in late September, when he defeated appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the special election runoff to pick the Republican nominee for the Dec. 12 general election, even though Trump had backed the incumbent. Moore then jumped to a solid lead over Jones, as expected in deep red Alabama.
Since five women came forward with accusations of Moore's alleged wrongdoing when they were teenagers — including allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and sexual relations with a girl who at the time of the alleged encounter was 14, two years under the legal age of consent — Moore’s lead has evaporated.
Moore has dropped into a dead heat with Jones. With his loyal base holding strong, though, he remains within striking distance. The retired judge’s supporters compare his predicament to what Trump went through in the fall of 2016, when the “Access Hollywood” tape was uncovered.
In what was then an 11-year-old video recording, Trump is heard plainly bragging that famous entertainers can sexually assault women because “when they’re famous, they let you do it” and admitting that he had engaged in similar behavior.
Trump’s poll numbers sunk, but they eventually recovered and he was elected president. Moore’s supporters are betting their candidate will enjoy a similar resurgence. They’re also counting on Trump, who regularly complains about rigged elections and being the target of unfair accusations, giving Moore some leeway.
“The same crowd did the same thing to President Trump,” Hooper Jr. said of Moore’s opponents. “I know the president. I’m very loyal to the president. I think he sees right through this.”