White House to Moore: If "mere allegations" prove true, get out

Faced with a potential sex scandal for a Senate candidate who embraced the president far more than the president embraced him, the White House opted for safety in its response. “Mere allegations” should not ruin a man’s life, Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Donald Trump’s Asia trip earlier today. If the allegations are true, however, Sanders says that Trump thinks Moore should “do the right thing and step aside.”

The art of talking much and saying nothing lives on:

The White House says President Donald Trump believes Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore “will do the right thing and step aside” if sexual misconduct allegations against him are true.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump in Asia that the president believes a “mere allegation” — especially one from many years ago — shouldn’t be allowed to destroy a person’s life.

But Sanders says: “The president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

In other words, there’s nothing to be done until there’s something to do. What makes this careful parsing interesting, though, is that it’s Trump’s team that is engaging in it. Trump is not a politician who often retreats behind public-relations pablum when he or his allies get accused of wrongdoing. He Fights, remember? And yet, Sanders is making as judicious a demurral on any further comment as possible under the circumstances.

She does say that Moore should withdraw “if these allegations are true,” but what does that mean? True in what sense? If the standard for making this determination is a conclusion in a court of law, or even truth beyond a reasonable doubt, then Sanders might just as well have refused to answer at all. This alleged incident has far exceeded any statute of limitations, and it’s not likely to end up in civil court either, where the standard is a preponderance of evidence. On that basis, having 30 sources on the record in the Post story might get the White House a lot closer to “true.” For now, though, the standard is political, as in what kind of standard we choose for political candidates, and whether voters believe Moore measures up to them. If voters use a preponderance-of-evidence standard, Moore might be in some serious trouble.

The White House statement might not be meant for Roy Moore as much as it is for Trump supporters, however. We’ve seen some odd defenses of Moore emerge that aren’t based on the allegations being false, including supposed biblical support for relations between a 32-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, Southern culture (which seems pretty insulting to Southerners), and that allegations of child abuse are somehow less troublesome than voting for a Democrat. Sanders’ statement cuts those arguments off at the knees, albeit so sotto voce that most people would miss it. If all these are just “mere allegations,” then defend Moore on that basis, the White House is saying, but if they’re true … stop defending him.

Of course, let’s also recall that Trump endorsed Moore’s opponent in the GOP primary, Luther Strange, despite Moore’s insistence on being the Trump candidate. Rumors began to swirl yesterday that Strange — currently the interim Senator — would launch a write-in campaign with the assistance of Lisa Murkowski, who successfully ran her own write-in campaign in Alaska. Strange isn’t exactly denying his interest in that plan:

Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who lost to Roy Moore in the Republican primary for the Senate, declined to say whether he would run as a write-in candidate after it was reported Moore allegedly pursued sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl in 1979.

“They’ve just come to light, and I’ve just read about them. It’s very, very disturbing, what I’ve read about. And I’ll have more to say about it I’m sure after I learn more,” Strange told reporters Thursday. “I’ll have more to say about it after I learn more about the facts.”

Strange did not answer when asked if he would run as a write-in candidate.

Unless more shoes drop on Moore, such an effort would likely only produce a split Republican vote and a Doug Jones win. The only escape for the GOP would be a Moore withdrawal, which Moore continues to insist won’t happen. If it does, Republicans could launch a Torricelli Option to replace Moore on the ballot with the help of the courts, and use the write-in campaign if that fails. But if no other allegations emerge against Moore, this might all fade by the time the December 12th election rolls around, at least for Alabama voters.