The Roy Moore Case Has Become The Focal Point In The Republican Civil War
Even before the allegations against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore became public a week ago, his campaign was taking on the dimensions of a clash between two wings of the Republican Party. On one side, we had the base of the party representing the people who strongly supported Donald Trump during the Republican Presidential primaries and who welcome into the midst people such as Steve Bannon and others who speak out against the so-called Republican “establishment” and its representatives in Washington. Included in this group were both the populism of the Tea Party movement and the Trump supporters who see people like Moore as the “true conservatives” and social conservatives who see people like Moore as their champion due to the stances he has taken on issues such as the relationship between church and state, marriage equality, and LGBT rights. On the other side there is that so-called “establishment,” which basically consists of Republican leaders back in Washington who, while still largely silent in the face of the rhetoric and actions of the President, also recognize the potential damage that these That split has become even more apparent in the wake of the charges against Moore. While Republican stalwarts nationwide have largely abandoned Moore, called on him to drop out of the race, and are openly contemplating expelling him from the Senate if he should win the Special election in December, Moore’s supporters are digging in their heels and convinced that the charges against him are part of some establishment plot to undermine one of their own. Some have even argued that they’d support Moore even if it turned out that most serious charges against him regarding the sexual assault of women when they were in their teens are true.
The result of all of this is that the charges against Moore are exposing these fault lines in the GOP to an even greater extent:
WASHINGTON — There was a time when the question of whether to disown a candidate accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl was fairly straightforward.
But the divisions in the Republican Party run so deep that the latest rallying cry for many on the right has become the case of Roy S. Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama who faces allegations of preying on many young women, including a 14-year-old, when he was in his 30s.
The debate among Republicans over what to do about Mr. Moore has taken on a significance that extends far beyond Alabama’s borders. It pits ascendant forces in the party — the most conservative evangelical Christians and insurgent, anti-establishment populists — against the Republican leadership in Washington. And it is being fanned by many of the same emotions that helped stoke President Trump’s rise and election: a mistrust of government, a desire for a leader who disdains and disrupts the political status quo, and a suspicion that elected officials will stop at nothing to hold on to power.
In the center of this caldron is Mr. Moore, an unlikely and highly flawed hero for many conservatives, who have come to see him as a convenient scapegoat for Republicans in Washington who want to quash their grass-roots uprising.
“People are fed up with the ruling class in Washington and their attitude ‘We know better than you do,'” said Ed Martin, a conservative commentator and protégé of Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative icon. “They think we’re barbarians. And we’re here at the gate.”0
The statement by the Alabama Republican Party on Thursday that it stood by Mr. Moore and “trusts the voters” to decide whether he should be elected to the Senate underlined the divisions between Washington and the grass roots. And the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, made clear which side Mr. Trump was on, echoing that sentiment.
In recent days, some notable figures in the conservative movement have also given Mr. Moore cover. Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, who saw Mr. Moore’s upset primary victory against an establishment Republican as a turning point in the war he is waging against Washington, has told his associates that he is unwavering in his belief that Mr. Moore should fight on.
Sean Hannity of Fox News, who this week delivered Mr. Moore an ultimatum to answer for allegations of sexually predatory behavior, backed down on Wednesday night, telling his audience that Alabama voters — not him — should ultimately decide.
Those moves were a telling rebuke of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and other Republicans in Washington who have either called for Mr. Moore to leave the race or for his expulsion from the Senate should he be elected.
“This is an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama and they will not stand for it!” Mr. Moore wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “I’m gonna tell you who needs to step down,” he continued in another post, “that’s Mitch McConnell.”
But many Republicans believe that trying to remove Mr. Moore from the race or expel him from the Senate if he wins would further enrage the party’s restive base and kill the small-dollar fund-raising that both political parties rely heavily on. And it would provide the kind of raw, angry grass-roots energy that Mr. Bannon says he needs to achieve his goal of ensuring that Mr. McConnell is not the Republican leader a year from now.
“Roy Moore would be a thorn in the Senate G.O.P. leadership’s side, and they would be happy to expel him hoping to both dissuade others and put down the Bannon rebellion,” said Erick Erickson, the Christian conservative writer and radio host who has argued that the debate over Mr. Moore should be viewed in the context of the much larger and more pitched battle between the party’s establishment and anti-establishment wings.
Party leaders, Mr. Erickson added, “are not as interested in the long-term consequences.” They just want to send a signal by defeating Mr. Moore that the conservative insurrection can and will be crushed, he added. Writing on his website recently, Mr. Erickson said, “I don’t blame the Roy Moore voters for thinking people are out to get them because people really are out to get them.”
Along with the mentality that I described earlier this week, this goes a long way toward explaining why Moore’s supporters are standing behind him even as the charges mount and the poll numbers start to look bleak in a race that any other Republican would be walking away with. For these people, this isn’t so much a political battle in which Roy Moore is running to win a Senate seat, it’s a cultural battle in which their values are being attacked by others and the attacks on Roy Moore are just the latest battle in a culture war that is playing out in their minds. Much in the same way that Donald Trump did in 2016, Moore has cast himself as the champion of their values who will go to Washington to advance their cause and to fight back against the people in power who are threatening them. What’s ironic, of course, is the fact that the charges against Moore make it clear that he is anything but a champion of the values that the people on the right claim to believe in. Of course, this was also true of Donald Trump, as any dispassionate analysis of his own personal behavior toward women makes clear. The history of the individual candidate doesn’t matter, though, what matters to these people is the who is attacking the candidate. In both Trump’s case and Moore’s case, many of the attacks are coming from the so-called Republican “establishment” and for the people who are rallying behind Moore that means they are the enemy to an even greater extent than Doug Jones and the Democratic Party.
What this suggests, of course, is that the chasm that the charges against Moore have made apparent isn’t going to be healed anytime soon. If Moore loses the election, his supporters will blame it on Washington Republicans who they will claim stabbed Moore in the back and intentionally sought to undermine his campaign not because he is being accused of serious offenses against young girls when he was younger, but because of the ideas and values he supposedly represents. If Moore wins and Republicans join with Democrats to seek to expel him from the Senate, which seems inevitable given the number of Republican Senators who have spoken out against Moore over the past week, they will see that as an effort by the so-called establish to thwart the will of the voters of Alabama. Of course, if Moore wins and Republicans do nothing to move against him they risk heading into the 2018 election with the twin albatrosses of Donald Trump and Roy Moore hanging around their necks in an election year that is increasingly looking as if it could be a rough one for Republicans in both the House and the Senate. This puts them in something of a bind between doing what they can to cauterize the wound that a Moore victory would inflict and taking action that will further enhance a divide that was already growing long before Roy Moore announced his candidacy for the Senate, and the battle will continue long after the race is over.