Distance: NRSC cuts off funding agreement with Moore campaign

The NRSC has made its move, but do Republicans in Alabama have a path to disconnect themselves from Roy Moore if he refuses to withdraw? We’ll get to the NRSC story in a monent, but it’s set up by this interview from yesterday between the state’s top election official, Secretary of State John Merrill, and CNN’s Erin Burnett. Merrill tells her that state law may preclude Republicans from replacing Moore on the ballot but they could remove their endorsement, which would then leave Moore without any political affiliation on the ballot at all:

Secretary of State John Merrill (R) told CNN “OutFront” host Erin Burnett that if the state GOP made the request, Moore would remain on the ballot but not appear as a Republican.

“He would not be removed from the ballot, but then again there’s a number of other things that will follow a protocol if the party take that permanent step and if they do, we will adhere to their request and we will honor their request as we should by law, and then we’ll make sure that the proper adjudication of the process is adhered to as the election continues,” Merrill said.

So what would this do for Republicans? It would achieve two goals — distancing themselves from Moore, and (theoretically, at least) opening up the potential for a successful write-in campaign for Luther Strange. Alabama voters who routinely cast votes for Republicans would presumably take a second look at the ballot, remember that the GOP has withdrawn its endorsement of Moore, and write in Strange instead. Whether or not that (a) takes votes away from Moore, and (b) does so in enough quantity to get Strange ahead of Doug Jones from the write-in spot is a completely different matter.

It’s the distance that would matter to the state Republican party, and more so for the national party. To that point, the NRSC has backed out of a fundraising agreement with Moore’s campaign:

A joint fundraising committee benefitting Moore and a handful of Republican Party organs filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Friday removing the National Republican Senatorial Committee as one of its beneficiaries. Going forward, the committee’s fundraising will benefit Moore’s Senate campaign, the Alabama Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee but not the NRSC.

The NRSC’s removal from the account is the most concrete step taken to date to create distance between the national Republican Party and the Moore campaign. Other lawmakers have called on Moore to leave the race. But most have said he should do so only if the accusations are proven true. These condemnations have all come in the aftermath of the Washington Post report detailing how Moore, decades ago, had sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl and propositioned three other female minors. The Post quoted four women on the record and had 30 sources in total. The Moore campaign has denied the charges.

Two points to keep in mind here. First, this doesn’t necessarily preclude NRSC support down the road for Moore, although it’s clear the committee wants nothing to do with him at the moment. This decision cuts off fundraising in both directions, but given the news of the last 24 hours, the NRSC is probably assuming that they wouldn’t see much revenue on this stream. Second: the NRSC’s preferred candidate would have been current incumbent Luther Strange, and this might free them up to help fund a Luther write-in campaign. Having the GOP tag off of Moore would make that easier to accomplish.

But distance might matter in Alabama, too. Merrill, a Republican, told Burnett in last night’s interview that the allegations are disqualifying, albeit with the “if proven” caveat:

“Well, I think most of the people in the state of Alabama would be very disappointed if someone who had been alleged to have engaged in that type of activity, had been proven that they had engaged in that activity, was continuing to represent them in any formal capacity,” Merrill said.

“I just want to get a clear answer here, so you’re saying ‘yes,’ you would think that is disqualifying?” Burnett asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responded.

Republicans seem to be going around in circles on the “proven” point, which matters legally but not necessarily politically. Allahpundit’s right in that there will never be a consensus on “proven” in this case, not even among Republicans and conservatives. But removing the endorsement is a kind of middle ground, telling voters that they can still vote for Moore if they wish — but the GOP no longer recommends him. Middle grounds don’t usually provide profiles in courage, but it’s better than nothing … maybe. It certainly beats the response thus far from some other Alabama Republicans, one of whom suggested prosecution — against the alleged victim.

Speaking of middle grounds, here’s Mike Lee, who endorsed Moore after the primary:

Moore released a fundraising pitch featuring Lee on Thursday just hours after The Washington Post story quoted a woman charging that Moore inappropriately her when she was 14 years old. The fundraising pitch attempted to discredit the allegations and included pictures of Lee, as well as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Lee’s office told The Hill on Friday that the Moore campaign never asked to use the senator’s image and that their office had requested that Moore take it down. Spokespeople for Cruz and Paul have not returned a request to comment from The Hill.

As of Friday morning, the senators’ pictures still appear on the online link to Moore’s fundraising appeal.

Has Lee rescinded his endorsement? If not, then there’s nothing deceptive about Moore’s pitch. If Lee has changed his mind about Moore, he’s been awfully quiet about it.

In closing, be sure to read Guy Benson’s tweetstorm on the Moore situation again. Disgraced House speaker Denny Hastert got convicted for abuse that didn’t come to light for decades, recall, but also note that there have been false allegations of sexual abuse in politics, too. The standard for voters isn’t guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but whether the evidence suggests that the candidate would be worthy of public trust. If after reading the Washington Post’s account with 30 sources and significant details you wouldn’t trust a candidate to babysit your adolescent, you shouldn’t vote to put him in office either. And if you’re down to arguing about the age of consent in an allegation involving a 32-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, you’ve already lost that argument.