Over the last 48 hours, the Republican Party has come to grips with a stark reality: Roy Moore may well win the Alabama special election next Tuesday.
That realization has triggered a series of events. President Donald Trump, always interested in associating himself with winning, endorsed Moore on Monday in a tweet and a phone call — telling the embattled Senate nominee to “go get ’em!” And the very same senators who called on Moore to step aside and condemned him for allegedly pursuing sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s started to find ways to walk those comments back.
“I think we’re going to let the people of Alabama decide a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate, and then we’ll address the matter appropriately,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch took that rationalization even further on Monday while traveling with Trump in Utah.
Of Trump’s endorsement of Moore, Hatch said: “I don’t think he had any choice but to do that. You know he needs every Republican he can get so he can put his agenda through. So that’s the only Republican you can possibly get down there.”
Added Hatch of the accusations against Moore: “Many of the things he allegedly did are decades ago. So it’s hard to — that’s a decision that has to be made by the people in that state.”
And, of course, the Republican National Committee announced Monday night that it will re-engage financially in the Alabama race just weeks after pulling its money out of the state.
So. This is where we are. In the space of a few weeks, establishment Republicans have gone from saying they believed the allegations made against Moore and insisting he couldn’t and shouldn’t represent the GOP to leaving it to the people of Alabama to decide and attacking the accusations as decades old.
Why? Simple. Because the race is in a week. Moore has denied all of the allegations and never wavered in his pledge to remain in the race. And, perhaps most importantly, polling suggests Moore’s numbers have bounced back after an initial dip following the accusations. In short: He looks like a winner now, so Republicans are finding ways to justify his behavior.
That logic is transparently obvious in Hatch’s comments about Moore and the race. “You know [Trump] needs every Republican he can get so he can put his agenda through,” is Hatch essentially acknowledging that winning matters more than anything else. Period. Full stop. That any Republican, even one faced with allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct, is better than any Democrat.
That logical leap also puts to lie the idea forwarded by Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner (R) that if Moore wins, Senate Republicans should and would move to expel him from the chamber.
Color me skeptical. The last senator expelled was in 1862 for supporting the Confederacy. And, given the walking back of their Moore criticisms of late, can you imagine Republican senators pushing to overturn the results of a popular election victory? If, as McConnell said, Senate Republicans are content with letting the people of Alabama decide who their senator should be, then the Senate can’t very well overturn that verdict now can they?
There are real risks in Republicans’ newly adopted “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” strategy in Alabama, however.
“Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation,” tweeted 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Monday night. “Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
That sentiment was echoed Tuesday morning by Matthew Dowd, who handled polling for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. “After going all in for Roy Moore, the President, the White House, the GOP, and any of their enablers has zero moral authority to talk about Weinstein, Franken, Conyers, etc.,”tweeted Dowd. “Deplorable.”
The issue Romney and Dowd raise is this: If the core principle of a political party is winning as a means to hold power then that party runs the very real risk of not standing for anything. Winning and power are means to an end. That end is accomplishing the policy goals that a party stands for. Winning isn’t a goal to be achieved via governance.
What Republicans are doing here with their Moore justifications is seeking short-term gain at the very real risk of long-term pain. Keeping a two-seat Senate majority may seem like the most important thing in the world to Senate Republicans today. But, if the cost is sacrificing any sort of moral high ground when it comes to acceptable behavior in politics (and life), the prospect of holding a single Senate seat seems like a very poor tradeoff.