As Democrats Move Against Franken, Republicans Re-Embrace Roy Moore (Vanity Fair)

As Democrats Move Against Franken, Republicans Re-Embrace Roy Moore

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As Democrats were preparing to force Al Franken from the Senate this week, Republicans were busy inviting Roy Moore in. “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama [sic],” Donald Trump tweeted on Monday, throwing his support behind an alleged serial predator of teenage girls. More than a half-dozen women have credibly accused Moore of pursuing romantic or sexual relationships with them while they were in their teens. At least one of those women has accused Moore of attempted rape. (Moore has denied any criminal wrongdoing, but has suggested he did date teenagers in his 30s.)

The White House has insisted that Trump’s endorsement is about more than political expediency. “The president has tremendous moral standards,” Kellyanne Conway said on CNN Wednesday morning, when asked to defend the decision. Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, she added, is “out of step for Alabama voters.” Republicans in Alabama, who still overwhelmingly support Moore, apparently agree.

The Trump-Moore alliance has jolted a Republican establishment already in turmoil over the Alabama race. Last month, when news of Moore’s behavior first surfaced, numerous party members turned on Moore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who campaigned for Moore’s primary opponent, said that Moore would not be welcome in the Senate, and suggested that he could be ousted for ethical transgressions if voters elected him. The National Republican Senatorial Committee broke off its relationship with Moore, and the Republican National Committee pulled out of a joint fundraising agreement with the candidate.

While Democrats were late to turning on Franken, the Republican Party has actually reversed its trajectory on Moore. Party leaders, including McConnell, are urging the people of Alabama to decide their fate. Senator Lindsey Graham softened an earlier rebuke. (Asked if Moore should face an ethics investigation if he wins, both now say they would leave it up to the ethics committee.) The Republican National Committee has since re-extended its support, sending $50,000 to help Moore in the final week of the campaign.

The sudden shift has left the party divided. Senator Jeff Flake posted a photo online Tuesday of a $100 check made out to Jones, with the words “Country over Party” scrawled defiantly. “I do think the president is wrong here,” Flake told reporters. “I think it will have negative impacts for the party in the long term.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee, notably, has not resumed campaigning for Moore. “This is a bad decision and very sad day. I believe the women—and RNC previously did too. What’s changed?” wrote Senator Ben Sasse on Twitter. “Or is the party just indifferent?

“I don’t think anybody’s surprised here,” Alabama’s senior senator, Richard Shelby told Politico, adding that he had already cast his vote for a write-in candidate. “The president’s interested in keeping 52 votes up here, and I’d like to, too. But a lot of us have different views on it, you know.” Others expressed surprise at Trump’s open support. “I don’t understand that move,” South Dakota’s John Hune told The New York Times. “I guess that’s consistent with what the President wants to happen, but it’s not consistent with what I’ve been saying. I just think, again, we’re putting ourselves in a situation where we’re going to have a cloud of uncertainty and a cloud of distraction come January.”

Indeed, the split cleaving the G.O.P. over Moore’s candidacy comes at a crucial time for the party, as they head into the 2018 midterm elections. As the Times notes, the division over the Alabama election is symptomatic of a deeper and more systematic set of fractures. Under Trump’s tenure, communication between various organs of the party has withered. Scheduled meetings between the White House, the Republican National Committee and the House and Senate Campaign Committees reportedly halted months ago. And, less than a month until election year begins, Trump has not arranged a single fundraiser for any candidates running. (A Trump advisor told the Times that meetings were taking place, but, they said, for legal reasons, they are happening outside the White House.) “Republicans are going to have to get on the same page,” Josh Holmes, McConnell’s political aide, said. “If we go into a midterm and the Steve Bannons are successful at dividing the Republican Party before we even get to the general election, it’s going to be a disaster.”

If those tactics continue, they may well expedite the dissolution of the party, which is increasing torn between its establishment and fringe wings. Then again, the zero-sum mentality is the new normal in the Age of Trump—an extension of the outré, bombastic approach to politics that made Moore a central figure in Alabama politics for 25 years. On the same day that Flake was pointedly donating to his political opponents, and McConnell was lamenting Moore’s probable arrival in the Senate, Bannon was campaigning with Moore in Fairhope, a suburb where Trump won more than 70 percent of the vote. Attacking Mitt Romney, who had declared Moore a “stain on the GOP” just hours before, the former Trump advisor seized upon the establishment’s disapproval of Moore, and expertly twisted it to support his campaign. “They want to destroy Judge Moore and you know why?” he asked the assembled crowd, riffing on the same themes that won Trump the presidency. “They want to take your voice away.”

General

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December 6, 2017 at 12:02PM