A sensible move, although (a) Trump promised to campaign for Moore before the stories about teenaged girls began to break and (b) you never know in which direction a loose cannon might end up firing. Staying away from Moore is the smart play for Trump for a dozen different reasons but populists would have loved to see him on the stump. And he might have enjoyed it purely as a middle finger to the bipartisan establishment consensus that Moore is toxic and unfit for office. Culturally they’re polls apart but politically they’re kindred spirits.
I wonder if POTUS will continue to keep his distance if Alabama stays tight down to the wire. It’s easy two weeks out with the race in flux for him to say that he won’t hit the trail. Both Jones or Moore could conceivably start to pull away; if it’s Moore than Trump doesn’t need to get his hands dirty, if it’s Jones then Trump won’t want to spend political capital on a lost cause. But what if it’s 48/48 the weekend before the election? Trumpers like Steve Bannon will be begging him to go down there and rally the troops. If he says no and Moore loses narrowly, how much heat will Trump take for that from the right?
The president had held the door open to campaigning for Moore last week, when he all but endorsed his candidacy while attacking his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. Trump also made public statements in which he raised doubts about the accounts of women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct decades ago, when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
The White House official told The Associated Press that Trump would not travel to Alabama on Moore’s behalf. The official was not authorized to discuss the president’s plans publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
We’ll see. Because hugging Moore or running away from him are both fraught with danger, Trump is trying to find a middle path in which he kind of endorses Moore but kind of doesn’t. He’ll declare that Doug Jones should lose … but he won’t declare that Moore should win. He’ll refuse to campaign for him in Alabama … but he’ll blast Jones on Twitter on Moore’s behalf, knowing that that’ll circulate in Alabama media:
Kellyanne Conway used the same sleight of hand in an interview last week, insisting it was important for the White House’s agenda that Jones lose but refusing to state the logical corollary, that Moore should win.
All of this may be a concession to Mitch McConnell. According to the Times, “Mr. McConnell has also reiterated his intention to move against Mr. Moore if he is elected, though Mr. McConnell has made clear that he thinks that the candidate is unlikely to win.” I think McConnell’s kidding himself on both counts, but if Moore does win next month and there’s a brawl in the Senate over whether to expel him, having Trump on record praising Moore instead of merely denouncing Jones would make it harder for the anti-Moore faction to push him out. Trump may be throwing him a bone by withholding that praise. More importantly, he’s denying Democrats any handy soundbites for the midterms next fall if Moore wins and turns out to be the sideshow in the Senate that they expect he’ll be. Dems will use him in attack ads nationally to give local Democrats another Republican hate object on whom to focus in deciding whether to turn out. (Another Times source calls Moore a “brand anvil” for the GOP.) Having Trump, the left’s primary hate object, on video praising Moore would amplify the effect. So Trump’s going to deny them that footage. For now.
I’ll be surprised if he denies them a tweet, though. Unless Moore falls decisively behind Jones, which seems unlikely given how the scandal has quieted down lately, Trump will conclude that he can atone to his base for his decision not to campaign for Moore by endorsing him on Twitter instead. If Moore has any shot at winning, we’re destined to get a “Vote for Roy!” communique from the presidential Twitter account on Election Day. Democrats would prefer video but they’ll take it.