“At this moment, that is a very unlikely scenario,” said the state party chair yesterday about the prospect of withdrawing the party’s nomination from Moore. But that was before Beverly Young Nelson held her press conference and a local outlet reported on Moore’s reputation for hanging around teens at the mall in the late 1970s.
Twenty-four hours later, is it still very unlikely? I’d say unlikely, yeah. But not very.
The 21 members of Alabama’s Republican Party central steering committee are the only ones who can pull Roy Moore’s nomination and potentially block his path to the Senate. After days of mounting allegations that their Senate nominee had sexual contact with teenage girls while he was in his 30s, two Alabama GOP sources tell TPM they’ve finally decided to hold a meeting later this week to hash out whether they can stand by his side…
Under state law, it is too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot or replace him with another candidate. If his nomination is withdrawn but he still gets the most votes in the Dec. 12 election against Democratic nominee Doug Jones, it’s unclear what happens. Some interpret the law as saying the election would be null and void and the governor would need to call a new one, while others say the second-place finisher would be declared the winner, whether that’s Jones or a write-in. Lawsuits would be likely…
Despite the seriousness of the allegations against Moore, state Republicans face a no-win situation politically. They can yank a nomination Moore won fair and square in the primary in spite of heavy opposition from the party establishment, infuriating his die-hard backers who hold significant sway in the state party and face severe blowback and accusations that they’re rigging the game. Or they can stand by a candidate whose toxicity is damaging both the state and national Republican Party and causing deep embarrassment for the state of Alabama.
The only way they pull the trapdoor on Moore, I think, is if they get cover from Trump publicly recommending that they do so. That won’t completely eliminate the risk of a populist backlash to their decision but it’ll make Trump the face of it, which will make Moore fans less likely to mobilize in outrage. Without Trump shielding them, though, what incentive do they have to cut him loose? They have a ready-made excuse for doing nothing: It’s too late to remove him from the ballot and in the end the state’s voters should render a verdict on the credibility of the charges against him. If he loses to Democrat Doug Jones, it’s not on them. They stood by Moore and he blew it. National Republicans who piled on him yesterday as being unfit for office will take the brunt of the backlash.
If instead he wins, fine. “The people have spoken!” Essentially the state party will have punted the decision on Moore’s fate to the Senate, where Mitch McConnell will face the crucible of having to decide whether Moore should be expelled from the chamber for his personal behavior. As fraught and wrenching as that process would be, it may be the most straightforward solution to this crisis still available to Republicans. Any other option involving a second Republican running alongside Moore or in his stead as a write-in probably means a divided GOP vote and Democratic victory. And even if Jones pulls the upset, he’s unlikely to be in the Senate for long: Jeff Sessions’s term, which Moore and Jones are vying to complete, runs for a little more than two more years. A 51/49 Republican margin would be dicey, of course, but it’s not like McConnell’s achieving much with a 52/48 spread. The big risk of having Jones there would be reducing the number of seats Democrats need to flip next year to retake the majority in the chamber. Defeating Dean Heller and the as-yet-undetermined GOP nominee in Arizona plus holding all of their other seats would give Schumer control at 51/49. That would make any SCOTUS and cabinet appointments by Trump very tricky, which is no small thing. But in all likelihood the party will maintain at least 50 seats after the midterms. And Jones will be bounced in 2020 by a more mainstream Republican in Alabama.
Here’s George Will making clear the extent of his own break from the GOP by endorsing Jones over Moore.