Roy Moore pedophilia accusations test GOP’s cracked moral compass

U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks during his primary election party, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Montgomery. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

If the GOP goes to the mat to defend Roy Moore — Alabama’s Christian conservative Senate candidate, now accused of sexually molesting an underage girl — it risks becoming known as the party of pedophilia.

The problem, of course, is that Republicans stomped their moral compass last year by rallying behind a presidential candidate who stood accused of sexually harassing or attacking 13 women. After crossing that line, it’s no surprise that they’re responding so weakly to the highly credible allegations that Moore, a self-appointed arbiter of moral values, had preyed on teenage girls, one of whom was 14.

A slew of senators yesterday said that “if true,” Moore should withdraw from the special Senate election scheduled for next month. But they never said what evidence would convince them (Moore’s fingerprints on old female underwear?), and this is not a case in court. If they bother to read the meticulously reported Washington Post story — which is based on more than 30 interviews, including statements from Leigh Corfman, the woman who was 14 at the time of the alleged sexual contact, and statements from three other women who agreed to be named, and corroborating comments from friends and family members — they’d smell the political stink and demand in unison that Moore get himself gone, immediately.

But the problem is that the GOP, which once prided itself as the party of high moral character, keeps sinking lower. And the GOP is a fractious party, evidenced anew by its clashing responses to the Moore story. While most senators have embraced the “if true” talking point (which gives Moore plenty of wiggle room to deny and dig in), the Alabama branch of the GOP is basically saying that even if Moore did do what he says he didn’t do, that would be just fine with them.

Why? Because they say the Bible says so.

I kid you not. It takes a fair bit of creativity to defend an accused pedophile by dragging Jesus through the mud, but that’s how state auditor Jim Ziegler chose to play it:

“Take the Bible. Zachariah and Elizabeth for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.”

These people will excuse anything (unless, of course, the accused pedophile was a Democrat). Frankly, I fail to see how the Mary and Joseph experience has relevance here, given that the 14-year-old girl in Alabama was under the age of consent, that Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney at the time (1979), and that, according to Corfman’s highly detailed accusation, Moore drove her to his house, undressed her to her underwear, stripped to his “tight white” underwear, touched her outside her bra and panties, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

The Post story points out:

“The legal age of consent in Alabama, then and now, is 16. Under Alabama law in 1979, and today, a person who is at least 19 years old who has sexual contact with someone older than 12 and younger than 15 has committed sexual abuse in the second degree. Sexual contact is defined as touching of sexual or intimate parts. The crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. The law then and now also includes a section on enticing a child younger than 16 to enter a home with the purpose of proposing sexual intercourse or fondling of sexual and genital parts. That is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.”

Naturally, Moore says this is all “fake news” (borrowing Trump’s definition of any reporting he doesn’t like), that it’s all a figment of what he calls “the Obama-Clinton Machine.” Rest assured, Leigh Corfman, a small-town Alabaman, never heard of an “Obama-Clinton Machine.” She voted for Trump in 2016, and for the Republican presidential candidates in the two previous elections. She hasn’t donated a dime to Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate running against Moore in the Senate race; nor have the other women named in the story.

If the national Republicans still have an ounce of integrity, they’d ignore the rationalizations in Alabama (where, according to Moore acolytes, it’s apparently OK for an adult man to fondle underage girls, but not OK for two gay consenting adults to get married), they’d ignore the fake factoids emanating from people like Sean Hannity (who insisted on Fox yesterday that whatever happened between Moore and the 14-year-old was “consensual”), and they’d demand with no wiggle room that Moore make way for a Republican write-in candidate. (That’s the best option because it’s too late to excise Moore’s name from the ballot.)

David French, the conservative commentator and attorney, says it better than I can: “The presence of multiple claims of misconduct from multiple sources should always make us pause — regardless of whether the alleged abuser comes from the Left or the Right. It’s a moral imperative that we not determine the veracity of allegations by the ideology of the accused.” And if Moore stays in the race and wins the December election, “the Senate should consider expelling him from the body. He does not belong in American government.”

That’s the only way Republicans can save their souls and ensure that the party acronym will not henceforth be known as Grand Old Perverts.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

50% of WHYY’s funding comes from donations made by people just like you.