November 10, the day after WaPo’s first story about Moore broke, the White House said he should quit if the allegations are true.
“Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Air Force One en route to Da Nang, Vietnam. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”
“Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
“I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” Conway said. “And the media — if the media were really concerned about all these allegations, and that’s what this was truly about … Al Franken would be on the ash heap of bygone half-funny comedians. He wouldn’t be here on Capitol Hill. He still has his job. What’s Bob Menendez doing back here? That’s the best my state of New Jersey can do?”…
“The guy Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal,” Conway said. She added: “I just want everybody to know Doug Jones. Nobody ever says his name, and they pretend that he’s some kind of conservative Democrat in Alabama, and he’s not.”
The more evidence has piled up against Moore, the more the White House has drifted towards supporting him. You can interpret that in two ways. From the standpoint of expedience, Team Trump had to be cautious after the scandal first broke because there was too much uncertainty about what might happen. Moore might quit; the state party might oust him; Alabama Republicans might revolt; more, and worse, accusations might surface. The safe play was to say Moore must go if the allegations are true. Twelve days later, there’s much less uncertainty. Moore won’t quit and the state GOP won’t remove him as nominee. Alabama Republicans are hanging with him for the most part but he’s lost enough of them to give Jones a credible chance of taking the seat. It’s now a binary choice, just as it was last November. And given a binary choice, the tribe always sides with its own, no matter what its representative is accused of. Moore calculated that as long as he stands firm, no matter how bad the scandal gets, the belief that anything is better than a Democrat will keep most of the party with him. He was right.
From the standpoint of image, Trump had little choice but to stick with Moore. He couldn’t risk losing a second fight with the Alabamian, having already lost once in the primary runoff. If he tried to force Moore out or encouraged voters to stay home, his populist fans would say that Moore’s spine is stiffer than Trump’s, that Trump’s not really a “fighter” when the fight gets hard, that Trump’s been corrupted by Washington, that Trump’s in the tank for McConnell. That would leave POTUS in a lose/lose position. If Moore ended up losing the race, some of Trump’s own base would blame him for turning on the nominee. If Moore ended up winning, it would prove that Trump’s disapproval means nothing to “his people,” that “his people” are loyal to populism, not to Trump. In the end, Trump risks less political capital with the right if he backs Moore and Moore loses than if he stays neutral. So that’s what he did.
Will he campaign for Moore too? Stay tuned, Trump told reporters. What a spectacle that would be.
At least Trump didn’t say that Moore’s accusers are credible but that Moore should be supported anyway, as Alabama’s governor recently did. If you’re going to vote for a guy who may have molested children, for cripes sake at least make an effort to convince yourself that he’s innocent. Moore says he didn’t do it, so hey. Good enough for Trump. Incidentally, I believe the only member of the Senate who’s still backing Moore is Rand Paul; everyone else has either withdrawn their endorsements or, as in the case of Jeff Flake, believes Moore should lose the race. Only Trump among major Republican elected officials is still down for whatever Moore will be bringing to the Senate with him.
Update: Yeah, how about that.
President Trump: "Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And by the way, he totally denies it." pic.twitter.com/Ipk7LkT9Of
— CSPAN (@cspan) November 21, 2017