The party will either pick up a seat in the Deep South — or have Roy Moore to campaign against in the midterms.
Democrats head into Tuesday’s Senate election in Alabama confident that they’ll come out on top no matter who wins.
And many Republicans agree with them.
If Doug Jones prevails, Democrats expect it will further excite their base, bolster candidate recruitment and fuel fundraising heading into 2018, coming off their near-sweep of last month’s elections. They will revel in picking up a Senate seat in the Deep South, especially in a state so central to President Donald Trump’s political rise and where he earlier backed the loser of the GOP primary. Practically, Republicans would have a 51-49 Senate majority, leaving them with a single vote to spare assuming Democrats stick together.
But the alternative won’t make for bad politics, either, Democrats say.
If Roy Moore wins, they’ll spend the next year yoking every Republican they can to the accused child predator and a president who welcomed him into the GOP fold. They’ll be quick to remind everyone of all the other comments Moore has made against Muslims and gays and in favor of Vladimir Putin’s view of America as evil, as well as his rosy view of slave-era America.
“He’ll be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. If you’re running in 2018, Roy Moore’s going to be your new best friend. As a Republican, to think that you can win without the baggage of Roy Moore is pretty naive,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who decided to call it quits next year after polls showed him losing reelection and says he feels out of sync with his party, is the only Republican senator who said publicly he’d prefer Jones to Moore. Flake made a point of tweeting a photo of a check he sent to the Democrat.
Supporting Moore “already effects the [Republican National Committee] now trying to go out and raise money. A lot of people are saying, ‘Why in the world would I contribute to an organization that’s pushing an alleged pedophile and child molester?’ It’s a big problem,” Flake said.
Whether that will prove true over time is unclear. The Republican National Committee says it hasn’t seen that effect in the week since it sent $170,000 to the Alabama Republican Party to support Moore — a reversal, prompted by Trump, from its earlier decision to cut ties with the candidate.
But the issue is bigger than money, Flake said. He compared it to his 2012 campaign, when he constantly had to answer for Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin arguing that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy and Indiana hopeful Richard Mourdock saying a pregnancy caused by rape is “something God intended.”
“And those were just statements,” Flake said. “This is behavior.”
With most Republican senators distancing themselves from Moore or disavowing him entirely since the sexual allegations emerged, some GOP operatives argue that voters won’t hold them accountable for him if he wins. Anyway, goes that optimistic line of thought, Democrats’ linking down-ballot candidates with the sins of Trump didn’t stop a Republican rout in the Senate and beyond.
“It’s hard to say in the current political environment that guilt by association still resonates,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff and campaign manager for Mitch McConnell who remains an outside adviser to the Senate majority leader. But, he added, “it’s certainly not good for Republicans. The question is whether this resonates deeply into the core of what the Republican Party is.”
Despite the RNC’s flip-flop, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) says he’s holding firm, declaring that Moore will never get the committee’s support. He’s already on record saying Moore should be expelled from the chamber if he’s elected, as are a number of his colleagues.
That has conjured a fantasy scenario among Moore’s GOP antagonists: That he’ll be forced out of the Senate, and that Republicans will get the credit. Then, on top of it, a special election likely will bring them a different kind of Republican for the seat.
Democrats are already batting around ideas on how they could force Republicans to vote on expelling Moore, putting them on record. And with Al Franken forced out last week before finishing the Ethics Committee process that Democrats had initially said they’d wait for, they now have an argument not to wait for the process to play out with Moore, and to say that conduct preceding a senator’s arrival elected can be disqualifying.
“I think that it’s really important that your walk match your talk, and rhetoric is pretty cheap, so I think a lot of questions are going to be asked about that — continually,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a top Republican target in next year’s election whose 2012 reelection campaign was widely seen as made possible by having Akin as her opponent.
McCaskill’s likely opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, said Moore should step aside. But if Moore wins, McCaskill said, he’ll have to keep answering questions every day.
“This is hard for him just to sidestep. This is something you’ve got to confront,” she said.
“To have the Republican National Committee, the official arm of the Republican Party, actively supporting someone who has sexually assaulted young women and to set that aside by saying giving tax cuts to wealthy people is more important — there’s no way that every Republican won’t be held accountable for that,” said Guy Cecil, chairman of the Priorities USA super PAC and former executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “They have set a new low for what is acceptable for the normal course of politics.”
The NRSC and DSCC declined comment.
Democrats are already using Moore to go after other Republicans. The Democratic Governors Association has issued news releases in Ohio attacking the leading GOP gubernatorial ticket for taking money from the same donor behind a pro-Moore super PAC, calling on the candidates “to return contributions from alleged child predator Roy Moore’s ‘chief financier.’”
And in Massachusetts, the DGA hit Gov. Charlie Baker for having a joint fundraising agreement with the RNC, or as they put it, the “Baker-backed RNC funding alleged child molester.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to “disavow RNC support of accused child molester Roy Moore.”
“If they want to be the party of pedophiles, that’s fine, they can run on that,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
In the meantime, most Senate Republicans are making a show of throwing up their hands, saying they’re powerless.
“I suggested that he should step aside. I still think that would have been the best outcome,” is how Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey put it in a typical response coming out of the GOP Conference. “But at this point it’s in the hands of the people of Alabama.”
Asked whether Moore would be a problem for Republicans, Toomey said, “I don’t think so.”
But asked the same question, Richard Shelby, the Republican who holds the other Alabama Senate seat, pointed out again that he didn’t vote for Moore, then said, “He’s unique.”
He ducked into an elevator on Wednesday as reporters asked him what he meant by that.
“You guys are smart,” he said. “You’ll figure it out.”
Holmes, for his part, summed up the Alabama race this way: “This is not just a lose-lose for the party,” he said, “it’s a lose-lose for the country.”