Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: I wrote in a Republican instead of voting for Roy Moore

Most Senate Republicans are reluctant to criticize Moore too loudly lest populists punish them for it in their next primary. As an Alabamian Shelby has more skin in the game than any of them, and not only did he not vote for the guy, he’s perfectly happy to discuss that fact on national television. I don’t follow Alabama politics so I don’t know if there’s history between him and Moore, but either way it takes some stones to anti-endorse your party’s candidate from your own state in a TV appearance you didn’t need to make two days out from the election knowing you’ll have to serve with him if he wins. He must really dislike Moore.

But if there’s any Republican in the Senate who has little to fear from getting cross-wise with Trump and his base, it’s Shelby. He’s 83, has been in Congress for nearly 40 years and the Senate for 30, and won reelection just last year with well over 60 percent of the vote. In all probability he’s in his last term, and even if he isn’t, who’s going to remember his opposition to Moore in 2022? Sure, Moore will, but if he’s anything like the disaster in the Senate that his critics expect, and if in fact businesses in Alabama start decamping to neighboring states in protest of his victory, it won’t be Shelby who needs to worry about a backlash back home.

I don’t mean to dismiss his vote of no confidence just because it won’t cost him, though. Clearly rubber-stamping Moore the way Trump and the entirety of the Alabama GOP have done was the easier course for Shelby. He refused to take it and he refused to hide it, presumably on principle. Good for him.

For your consideration, a trio of conservative writers addressing the “just hold the seat and worry about Moore afterward” expedience argument. First, Caleb Howe on Trump deciding to cut a robocall for Moore:

The problem is that you can’t claim something to be out of necessity or expediency if, in practice, you frame it as a great and tremendous thing you fully support. “Vote for Moore so we can replace him with a better Republican later” is not the same thing as “this is a wonderful great guy America needs and you should vote for him plus also that lady lied.”

But that is where Trump is putting the GOP. It’s an affirmative support. A declaration of Moore as suitable and one of us. It’s not a candidacy endorsement, in other words. It’s a Moore endorsement. There will be no expulsion should he win. There can’t be. He’s Trump’s chosen.

Remember, Steve Bannon told a crowd in Alabama last week that Moore has more integrity in his little finger than Mitt Romney has in his whole body. Moore isn’t being sold by major players as the lesser of two evils, or at least not anymore. He’s being sold as worthy on his own merits. Peter Wehner picks up on that idea:

Assume you were a person of the left and an atheist, and you decided to create a couple of people in a laboratory to discredit the Republican Party and white evangelical Christianity. You could hardly choose two more perfect men than Donald Trump and Roy Moore…

I hoped the Trump era would be seen as an aberration and made less ugly by those who might have influence over the president. That hasn’t happened. Rather than Republicans and people of faith checking his most unappealing sides, the president is dragging down virtually everyone within his orbit.

Spinning for the president is now a more or less 24/7 job for major conservative media and grassroots right-wingers, especially if they’re evangelical, oddly. One of the pitches last year to Never Trumpers, including from Trump himself, was that he’d be a different character once in office. “I will be so presidential,” he said during the primaries, “you will be so bored.” No one is bored. He’s not different, the GOP is different. (Or, if you prefer, the GOP was always like this but has been liberated by Trump to be truer to itself.) This is why Moore’s candidacy is evoking so many “last straw” responses from Trump skeptics like Wehner. The presidency is momentously important and Hillary was a garbage candidate, which made an argument from expedience in favor of the GOP nominee easier to digest last year. Tuesday’s election is about a three-year term for one of 100 Senate seats, and one which the GOP will almost certainly win in 2020 regardless of what happens this week. Choosing Moore over Mo Brooks or Luther Strange in the primary when the stakes were that low wasn’t “expedience,” it was a preference for Moore-style populism on the merits. This is what the party is.

Finally, Kevin Williamson takes on the expediency argument’s bottom line: If candidate quality doesn’t matter so long as it leads to big policy victories, where are the big policy victories?

My friend (and boss) Rich Lowry recently argued that the Trump administration has proved so far surprisingly successful from the point of view of conventional Republican priorities — there’s more to the Trump record, he said, than Neil Gorsuch. And that’s true enough: Scott Pruitt at the EPA has done useful and important things, as has Betsy DeVos at Education. But that’s a side of hash browns, not an omelet. Health care remains unreformed, the tax bill is an incoherent mess, the border remains unsecured, there has been no significant reform of economic policy, and we have in fact moved in the direction opposite from fiscal sanity, etc. President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem . . . and then immediately signed a waiver, as he predecessors had, adding an Augustinian “but not yet” to the end of his declaration. That was a classic Trump move: The Trump administration is a show about nothing.

That’s not a bargain at any price. But at the price of one’s honor? The Republican party took the lead in seeing off both American slavery and worldwide Communism under the leadership of men including Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. The most today’s Republican party can say for itself is: “You can’t prove our guy was a serial molester of adolescent girls! That’s up to the people of Alabama to decide.”

My prediction is that Moore wins by seven. This is what the party is. Exit question: Why has Moore disappeared from the campaign trail this weekend? Reporters may want to ask him uncomfortable questions but he doesn’t have to answer. Is his team so worried about him saying something spontaneously to wound himself that they’re limiting appearances to minimize the risk? He’s scheduled to be back out there tomorrow night at a rally with Bannon, where, presumably, the guest will do most of the talking.