If Tuesday night’s election results made Republicans fear becoming a minority in the new Congress in 2019, Thursday’s allegations against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore raised a new concern: the prospect of seeing the party’s razor-thin Senate majority reduced to 51-49 much sooner.
Just days after a series of demoralizing election results, Republicans were rocked by reports that Moore pursued inappropriate relationships with girls as young as 14 while an Alabama district attorney in his 30s. Moore, a former state supreme court chief justice, is now 70.
Moore already carried baggage from numerous controversial pronouncements on religious and social issues that his would-be GOP colleagues in the Senate were reluctant to defend. Many Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — said Moore should step aside as a candidate if the allegations are true; a few did not even use that qualifier.
But Moore has his defenders. Some dispute the veracity of the accusations by the four women who came forward. (Moore himself called the allegations “fake news.”) Alabama’s state auditor invoked Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Joseph in support of Moore. The firestorm became the latest rift between President Trump’s most fervent supporters and “Never Trump” conservatives. While Trump did not endorse Moore in Alabama’s Republican Senate primary, instead backing appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, many of his populist backers did.
Chief among them was former top White House strategist Steve Bannon, who swiftly compared the bombshell to the “Access Hollywood” tape that nearly derailed Trump’s presidential campaign. That recording featured Trump engaging in lewd talk about women and bragging about his sexual conquests.
"The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore,” Bannon said during a Thursday evening speech in New Hampshire. “Now is that a coincidence? That's what I mean when I say 'opposition party,' right? It's purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party. They don't make any bones about it. By the way, I don't mind it. I'll call them out everyday."
Sean Hannity, the pro-Trump Fox News host, dismissed the women’s accounts as “he said, she [said].”
"These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign," Moore’s campaign said in a statement. The Moore camp has already started raising money against “the forces of evil” behind the report.
But Republicans are panicking. One GOP Hill staffer described the mood as “somber,” another “apoplectic.” Moore’s poll numbers were lackluster already, as he fell below 50 percent against Democratic opponent Doug Jones, although one survey by a local news outlet does have the Republican clearing this threshold and opening a double-digit lead. That poll was taken in October. The RealClearPolitics average has Moore up by only 6 points. Jeff Sessions last won this seat in 2014 with no Democratic challenger, taking over 97 percent of the vote.
If Moore were to fall to the Democrats in the December special election, Republicans would have only 51 votes in the Senate. They have already struggled to pass major legislative items with a 52-48 breakdown, repeatedly failing to rally a majority behind legislation partially repealing and replacing Obamacare.
A Moore loss would give Republicans even less margin for error and embolden Democratic candidate recruitment across the country. One Republican strategist told the Washington Examiner that Moore would be a boon to Democratic and outside liberal groups’ fundraising, even if he won.
“He’s going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” the strategist said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. A Democratic consultant working on the race told the Washington Examiner last month that some disgusted Republican donors were giving money to Jones instead of Moore. That was before the latest reports.
Contingency plans have been discussed, such as whether Strange or some other write-in candidate could in effect replace Moore, but it is not yet clear whether any action is being taken.
The allegations come after a wave of sexual harassment charges have brought down some of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. are among those who have been engulfed, emboldening other women — perhaps including the four on-the-record Moore accusers — to tell their stories.
Republicans struggled with women and college-educated suburban voters in Tuesday night’s elections, which saw Democrats win governorships in Virginia and New Jersey plus a slew of local races.