"Why now?": Roy Moore questions the timing of WaPo story about teenaged girls; Update: "Common knowledge," says former colleague

Unquestionably this is his best defense. He’s been a political lightning rod in Alabama for 15 years and has run for office repeatedly, most recently with uniform opposition from the Republican establishment, and only now on the cusp of winning a Senate seat are there any accusers? That seems awfully convenient for his many political enemies. On the other hand:

Did the women come forward now because they’re liberal plants eager to blow up Moore’s candidacy or did they come forward now because (a) they thought they might finally be believed amid the tornado of harassment allegations against other powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and (b) they were bothered by the idea of Moore being elevated to high office without him ever accounting for his alleged habit of dating teenagers? According to the Washington Post, not one of the women who accused Moore sought out the paper to publish their accusations. The paper’s reporters heard rumors about Moore, asked around, and found them, and “[a]ll were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews.”

And there *have* been rumors about him, according to The Intercept, although it’s unclear if the Moore rumors were louder than the rumors that inevitably occasionally swirl around any big-name state official:

“There’s been a rumor for a while,” said David Mowery, an independent political consultant who first heard the allegations in his role as campaign manager for Bob Vance, Moore’s opponent in a 2012 race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. “But I don’t know if anyone knew the extent of it, if you know what I mean,” Mowery added…

One Republican strategist who declined to be named said Moore’s problematic history with women was common knowledge in political circles, but the specifics — that he preyed on and molested a 14-year-old girl, as the Washington Post reported on Thursday — were unknown until this week. Part of the problem with chasing the story, the strategist added, is that rumors attach to so many men in power. “He’s got women issues going way back,” the strategist said he was told. “I feel like you hear that about everybody.”

Listen to him carefully in the clip below and you’ll see that he’s specific about what he’s denying. It’s the same two things he denied yesterday, first that he ever provided alcohol to a minor and second that he ever committed “sexual misconduct.” I think that’s a reference to the age of consent; he’s not denying that he dated older teens but he categorically denies even knowing Leigh Corfman, the woman who claims he molested her when she was 14. An unnamed U.S. senator apparently phoned Moore after his Hannity radio interview to get a clarification on that. Was he denying the *entire* Post story or just the worst parts?

[I]t turns out he couldn’t deny relations with underage women in a phone call with a US senator after the show.

According to three sources briefed on the call, Moore could not deny “kissing” or “dating” teenagers while in his thirties. The Republican senator encouraged Moore to drop out of the race, the sources said. A spokesman for Moore declined to comment on an account of the phone call.

The senator was almost certainly either Mike Lee or Steve Daines, both of whom unendorsed Moore yesterday within an hour or so of the Hannity interview ending. Whoever it was must have been troubled by Moore’s cagey answers to some of Hannity’s questions and wanted to hear from the man himself before deciding whether to stick with him. I guess the phone call wasn’t reassuring.

What does Team GOP do now? One suggestion floating around is to have Alabama’s Republican governor push back the date of the special election so that Moore can be removed from the ballot. (Under state law, if you’re still in the race and on the ballot 76 days before Election Day, you can’t be taken off of it.) The risk in doing that is that reporters can use the extra time to try to find more dirt on Moore. If the WaPo piece is the only hit he ends up taking, most Republican voters will probably shrug off his culpability as undetermined and pull the lever. If he gets hit again, though, he may be done for and it may come too soon before the pushed-back special election date to remove him from the ballot then. The other option is for the GOP to sit back, see what happens in the election, and then make a hard decision about whether to expel Moore if he wins. The Senate Ethics Committee could investigate him once he’s seated. But good luck getting the party to toss out a newly elected populist with the midterms just months away. The only way they’d get away with that without a backlash would be if Trump spearheaded the campaign to boot Moore. And Trump’s not going to get chesty about Republicans accused of sexual misconduct with women, needless to say.

As I write this on Saturday, I believe there are only three Senate Republicans who are still endorsing Moore, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Cornyn. There are far more who are tweeting things like this:

It’s an eerie replay of the “Access Hollywood” clusterfark last October, when the party initially rushed to condemn and unendorse Trump, then slowly crawled back into his camp when they realized he wouldn’t withdraw, it was too late to replace him as a candidate, and Republican voters simply didn’t care. Trump won and so will Moore, probably. And then we’ll have another eerie replay next year of Senate Republicans forced to work with and be cordial to a guy whom they ran around saying was unfit for office.

Update: Not great.

Jones commented to CNN too: