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The Roy Moore Case Has Become The Focal Point In The Republican Civil War

Elephants Fighting

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.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Eeeeeeexcellent 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  2. charon says:

    Moore held a media event with about 20 people speaking on his behalf, all but 1 of whom were out-of-state – people like Alan Keyes and Steven Hotze. (Hotze is very powerful in Texas politics.)

    Mostly it was just God, God, God – us “real” Christians against “them.” But that’s Moore’s shtick – firing up the”real” Christians, he really has nothing else.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. James in Bremerton says:

    A new front in the already raging GOP civil war threatens to open on the subject of those who are complicit in the widening criminal disaster in the White House, and those who are not.

    Many indictments remain sealed, grand juries continue their work, and there has been no departure of Muller’s career prosecutors.

    Prosecutors. Not, investigators, suggesting they already had an abundance evidence. If operatives and phones were “wired,” we’ll hear people committing felonies in their own voices.

    Luckily, the people at the center of this are rock-dumb. The trail of breadcrumbs didn’t even take a half-piece of toast. They keep arresting and deputizing people we’ve never heard of. That has to scare anyone paying attention on the inside, assuming that person exists.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    Dark Secret: I kind of want Moore to win to create an object demonstration of the philosophical rot that has consumed the Republican party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Will anybody who hasn’t already noticed the rot care?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    That much is already evident to anyone with a brain. His supporters don’t fall into that group.

    He needs to lose – because when/if he does, these faultlines in the GOP will explode into full blown earthquakes and the internecine warfare will go nuclear.

    I fully believe that a functioning government needs a rational conservative voice, but these clowns ain’t it. Sometimes you really do have to burn down a village in order to save it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Yep.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. Jack says:

    Apparently Roy Moore should have simply accidentally drove his car off a one-lane bridge and into a tidal channel while leaving a young girl alone to drown and not telling police about it for 10 hours. That would guarantee he’s reelected until he dies in office.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 20

  9. JKB says:

    Well, the scandal conveniently broke after the ballot was locked and there was no way for Republicans to remove Moore’s name from the ballot or substitute another candidate. So they are left with the stark choice of an ill-fated write-in campaign which would only split the vote and elect the Democrat. Even if Moore was amenable to bowing out and supported the write-in campaign, there would still be a lot of votes for him just out of voter apathy.

    So really the only choice here was for national Republicans to denounce Moore, for him to soldier on with denials and let the votes fall where they may. If these accusations are a house of card, it could collapse in the next couple of weeks. Not to mention, all the other sex scandals going on now, especially Franken, might just cause voters to write off the scandal. Complexity tends to cause voters to discount the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  10. JKB says:

    With all these Hollywood sex abuse scandals and the renewal of Bill Sexual abuser in chief, seems to me that there is some kind of power play going on the Democratic party. I mean really, people are talking about Biden as the Democrats’ Old Man Running in 2020 with all his handsy videos involving children?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

  11. Tyrell says:

    @JKB: Yet it seems out side of Alabama a lot of people are not interested and many are in the “who’s Roy Moore?” reactives. More people are interests in tax reform. We need more take home pay. People look for better jobs. Quality jobs with descent pay and good benefits are disappearing faster than the flip phone.
    Yet the main stream news is obsessed with these scandals. Every day there is some new announcement of a politician or entertainer who groped or pursued someone back in the ’80’s or ’90’s. I wonder if today’s hug will be a future claim of “fondling”.
    Is the main stream news onto yet another diversion or do they just not have enough to fill their day? Why not report more good news? People doing good things? I go to other sources now – that report facts, not propaganda, and show good news, not sensational trash.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  12. CSK says:

    The governor of Alabama says she’s voting for Moore even though she has no reason to doubt his female accusers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. charon says:

    @CSK:

    The governor of Alabama says she’s voting for Moore even though she has no reason to doubt his female accusers.

    That must be the politically safe stance with having Alabama (GOP) constituents.

    @Tyrell:

    Why not report more good news? People doing good things? I go to other sources now – that report facts, not propaganda, and show good news, not sensational trash.

    Silly media insists on reporting hurricanes and floods but there are so many places the weather is nice thy just ignore. Why is that, can’t understand?

    I go to other sources now – that report facts, not propaganda,

    Examples?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. Barry says:

    @Stormy Dragon: ” Dark Secret: I kind of want Moore to win to create an object demonstration of the philosophical rot that has consumed the Republican party.”

    The problem is that (a) it gives evil more power and (b) will be a demonstration that being openly evil is a winning strategy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Terrye Cravens says:

    @Jack: Apparently it is impossible for a rightie to even talk about the problems on their own side without mentioning a Kennedy or a Clinton. That tells me that you have nothing in the way of an actual defense. Sad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  16. Terrye Cravens says:

    @JKB: Like Jack, you prefer to whine about a Clinton than to actually deal with the issue at hand. Clinton was impeached and yet that is not enough now is it?

    I used to be a Republican, but I left the party because it opened its doors to people like Bannon and Moore. I respect the Constitution, which is more than can be said for Roy Moore and I am not a neo nazi nationalist, which is more than can be said for Bannon.

    And people like you are too busy yammering about Clinton or Kennedy or Hollywood to even begin to deal with the disease that has taken control of the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Tyrell says:

    @charon: USA Today, CNBC, Scholastic, Space Weather, Channel One, PBS, Bloomberg, Forbes, Jayski, ESPN Magazine

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:
    And there you have the relativistic morality of the evangelicals who used to hate moral relativism.

    I used to say that when religion and politics enter a room together only one comes out alive. Never expected to have it demonstrated quite so clearly. Evangelical Christianity is no longer religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Last year, NPR reported that in 2011, 70% of evangelicals said that a candidate who led an immoral life would not be acceptable. In 206, 72% said that an immoral candidate would be acceptable.

    That was by far the biggest swing of any denomination.

    Yep. Just yell about the evils of homosexuality loud enough, erect Ten Commandments monuments where they shouldn’t be, and you can molest all the little girls you like.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @Jack: So because of Teddy Kennedy, we have to keep our mouths shut about all Republican child molesters from here to eternity?

    Talk about getting a free pass….I guess sexual molestation doesn’t bother you? Otherwise you’d have avoided such a morally dubious argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. rachel says:

    @Jack: If it weren’t for “Whatabout…?!” Jack would actually have to exercise his flabby his brain cells and come up with a relevant argument. We can’t have that.

    Sigh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Barry: Being openly evil is a winning strategy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. gVOR08 says:

    Chappaquiddick was 49 years ago. Stretching that far for your bothsidesdoit cuts into its credibility.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. Yank says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Nah, I rather have senate seat. If they win the seat, they have a better shot of retaking the senate (they are going to retake the house.) and effectively ending the Trump presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. CET says:

    @CSK:

    Yep. Just yell about the evils of homosexuality loud enough, erect Ten Commandments monuments where they shouldn’t be, and you can molest all the little girls you like.

    Pretty much. Every time I read Dreher or Douthat wringing their hands about how the liberals are actively trying to destroy their religion, it amazes me that they can’t seem to see what evangelical Christianity looks like to those of us outside the cult.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. gVOR08 says:

    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

    McConnell was bending over to cozy up to Moore after he won the primary, but before the allegations came out. If elected and seated, Moore would be a constant lightning rod into the ’18 and ’20 elections. That’s why the GOPs want him out, not some grand plot against 2/3 of their base. And Erick, spawn of Erick is an idiot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Tyrell says:

    Big Al went to confession, absolution, repentance, and penance. Even the Pope would be proud.
    Look at the Democratic candidate for governor of Ohio and the flap over his confession. He decided to make his “confession” out front and center: get it over with. I suggested that idea just yesterday. Now a bunch of people are jumping all over his statements. You can’t win for losing. Just what do these people want?
    “Who am I to judge?” (The Pope)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  28. NW-Steve says:

    @Tyrell:
    Maybe the problem was that his “confession” sounded very much like a boast. Amazingly enough, many people react differently to the two.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. MarkedMan says:

    @CET: dreher and his obsessive homophobia wears on me, but in all fairness he is very aware of the damage the evangelicals are doing to Christianity as a whole, and has been writing about continuously since Trump won the nomination.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @CET: They don’t care about what Christianity looks like to people outside the cult. Those people are all going to hell anyway; who cares what they think?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: I fear that, although a resident of Ohio, I’ve paid little attention to the state Supreme Court Justices. I’m afraid the guy’s confession made him sound like a very stupid man. Fifty does sound boastful, and he failed to mention consent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. iSeeDumbPeople says:

    “…Mr. Bannon says he needs to achieve his goal of ensuring that Mr. McConnell is not the Republican leader a year from now.”

    I think he’s going to succeed beyond his wildest expectations!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. CET says:

    @MarkedMan:

    True – and his principled opposition to Trump (and his foreign policy) are two of the main reasons I find him worth reading. But my sense of his overall position is that he sees things like evangelical support for Trump (or Moore) as an aberration, as something that evangelicals can be reasoned out of. I think the evidence indicates that support for people like Trump and Moore is a core part of what most people mean if they call themselves Evangelical Christians in this time and place.

    Or (tl;dr) I agree that he sees the damage, but I don’t think he gets that this rot goes to the foundations of the structure, where is has done so much damage that it is now visible from the surface. Or maybe he does, and the Benedict Option is as much about purifying the church as it is about escaping ‘liberal persecution’…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0