On Twitter this morning, former George W. Bush pollster Matthew Dowd wrote:
“Please, Alabama GOP leaders. There is a virus in your state. You are on the front line and have the power to stop its spread. Please put country over party. And decency over winning a race. History will judge you in this moment.”
A noble try. But despite the fact that a fifth woman has now surfaced to accuse holier-than-thou Roy Moore of pervy behavior (she says that when she was 16 and he was in his early 30s, “he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch”); despite the fact that a former assistant DA in Alabama now says it was “common knowledge” that Moore cruised for young teens; despite the fact that his habit of hitting on teens got him barred from the town mall; and despite the fact that a growing list of Republican senators want to scrape Moore off their shoes (including Mitch McConnell, Pat Toomey, Ted Cruz, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Orrin Hatch), leaders of the Alabama GOP, buttressed by bottom-feeder Steve Bannon, are still standing by their man.
I get that Alabama is a crimson-red state, so red that it hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in 25 years. But at what point does partisan tribalism and the cult of winning become so toxic that common decency becomes a casualty of war?
The Alabama polls have supposedly tightened since last Thursday, when Senate candidate Moore was first credibly outed by four women who encountered him as teens, but it’s still very conceivable that a heavily Republican electorate (roughly 35 percent of whom are white evangelicals) will find enough excuses on Dec. 12, special election day, to anoint Moore as the first senator in history (that we know of) to take office as an accused child molester.
Because the way things work today in a state like Alabama, the party label is everything. A Republican under a thickening perv cloud is better than a gun-owning Democrat who prosecuted racists who killed black kids in a church bombing — simply because Doug Jones is a Democrat. “Country over party” means nothing. According to one new poll, 37 percent of Alabama’s evangelicals say they’re now more likely to vote for Moore; only 28 percent, less likely. In the words of columnist George Will, a conservative who understands the limits of tribalism, the Alabama GOP’s attitude is “grotesque,” a classic illustration of how the win-at-all-costs cult is “curdling politics.”
This says it best: After The Washington Post named the first four women in a story based on 30 sources, Republican national committeeman Paul Reynolds, an Alabaman, said: “My gosh, it’s The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or the Washington Post, Putin wins every time.” My response, to the revelation that this guy would rather trust his “welfare” to a murderous dictator who waged info warfare on our election, can only be: My gosh.
But the fifth woman to surface, Beverly Young Nelson, was not interviewed by The Post. She appeared on camera yesterday and said she’d be willing testify under oath before a Senate committee about her encounter with Moore when she was 16. She was a waitress, and Moore offered to give her a ride home. She got in, but says he kept the car in park and began to grope her. Then this: “I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop. But instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch … I thought he was going to rape me.” She got out. She recalls that he told her to keep quiet because “no one will ever believe you.”
Nelson voted for Trump in 2016 — as did Leigh Corfman, who has accused Moore of initiating sexual contact with her when she was 14 — and she produced her high school yearbook, which Moore apparently signed prior to the alleged car incident. (His signature matches his contemporary signature.) Maybe it’s just me — admittedly, I’m an “elitist” who doesn’t share Alabama values — but there’s something creepy about a man in his 30s signing a girl’s yearbook: “To a sweeter, more beautiful girl, I could not say. Merry Christmas…. Love, Roy Moore, D.A.”
Evangelical Alabamans probably gave Moore props for that: “Hey look — he signed Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays!”
Assuming that Moore resists the Washington GOP demands that he drop out, assuming that Alabama’s GOP leaders hold firm (governor Kay Ivey, yesterday: “There may be some more facts to come out, but he is the party’s nominee”), and assuming Mitch (“I believe the women”) McConnell doesn’t plot a desperate write-in campaign that splits the party on special election day, Moore’s race remains eminently winnable. Which is one big reason why he persists.
The electorate is seriously polarized along partisan and racial lines. Democrats draw virtually all the black voters and a tiny share of the white voters; for a statewide percentage, that typically puts them in the low 40s, far from the finish line. Doug Jones will suffer the usual fate if Moore can prompt Republicans to jerk their knees in rote protest against the “liberal” “media” “cultural” “elites” that are supposedly persecuting him down the home stretch to Dec. 12.
That’s what the cult of winning is all about, unless — miracles of miracles — a sufficient share of Republican voters are so discomfited by Moore that they simply stay home. That, at least, would be something. Because, as the conservative House of Commons statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”