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Sunday Political Brunch: Why Republicans Had to Pivot on Roy Moore—November 26, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017


In a little over two weeks, the special election takes place in Alabama for the U.S. Senate. For the last few weeks Republicans have been trying to figure out what to do with their nominee, former Justice Roy Moore, who’s been accused of sexual improprieties from 40 years ago. At first, many shunned Moore and disavowed themselves from his campaign, but now some are offering an invisible group hug. So why the change? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Trump Won’t Stump” – President Trump was never a Moore backer. Instead he favored Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) who had been appointed to fill the vacant seat, but lost to Moore in the primary. Then, after the allegations were published in the Washington Post, Trump said Moore should step aside if the allegations were true. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made similar measured responses, but later both Congressional leaders said Moore should quit, period! Meantime, Trump now says voters should now choose Moore to keep GOP control of the Senate. That’s quite a pivot!

“Write-In; Wrong Time” – Stuck with a nominee few party leaders wanted, the GOP then explored the idea of a write-in campaign for Senator Luther Strange. They even suggested Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lead the campaign, since she was the last U.S. Senator to successfully wage a write-in vote. But soon, talk of a write-in faded as Moore dug in his heels. My guess is that internal party polling from both campaigns and from leaders in Washington all showed the same thing – that Moore and Strange would simply split the GOP vote, and Democratic candidate Doug Jones would easily walk away with what should be a “gimmie” seat in the U.S. Senate for Republicans.

“The Third Rail” – A third, potentially volatile option was to let Moore run his race with no party interference. If he won, leaders could quickly expel him from the Senate, and Governor Kay Ivey, (R-AL) would appoint a successor. Many in Alabama – on all sides of this race – quickly erupted in anger. How dare the national Republican Party (including the President, Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker) violate the votes and will of the Alabama electorate? It was a terrible idea and here’s why. Alabama – like many states – fiercely guards its state sovereignty. In short, Alabamans will decide what’s best for Alabama, not outsiders.

“The National Mood” – The Senate expulsion idea was bad for another reason, and that is the foul mood of voters in this country. The success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders reflected a very similar phenomenon. The voting public in many parts of this nation are fed up with the elitist, insider nature of Washington Beltway politics. People loved Trump and Sanders because they were outsiders, even though their political philosophies couldn’t be further apart. All politicians, especially incumbents, ought to reflect on this as it could be very instructive to campaigning next year.

“Practical Politics” – Yes, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee and various other party mechanisms are still shunning Moore and cutting off financial support, but there is likely plenty of support going on through back channels. Why? Because Republicans need and want to keep this seat, no matter the candidate. President Trump will likely have another Supreme Court nominee, and perhaps some treaties he wants signed, in addition to tax reform and other items. He needs the GOP to hold its Senate majority in the 2018 midterm elections, or the President’s agenda is in real trouble.

“The Placeholder” – Another factor in the sudden warming up to Roy Moore is the fact that this is a short-term seat. He running to fill the three remaining years of former Senator Jeff Sessions’ term. Moore is now 70, and may not even run again if he wins. That gives the state GOP time to groom a top-notch candidate for 2020, even someone to challenge Moore in a primary if he seeks reelection.

“The Other Accusations” – Please don’t misinterpret what I am about to say. Allegations and admissions of sexual misconduct are serious business, and should not be taken lightly. Those that occur in the workplace are especially troublesome. But the recent avalanche of allegations or admissions involving other people such as Charlie Rose, Sen. Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Rep. John Conyers, former President George H.W. Bush, and some prominent business leaders, probably helps Roy Moore. They have drawn much of the attention away from him, and have probably diluted the degree of public outrage. I’m not giving Moore a “boys will be boys” pass here, but the more recent allegations are grabbing the headlines, and pushing the Moore’s story to the status of old news. Remember the outrage against Donald Trump for the “Access Hollywood” tapes faded, and a month later he was elected President.

“Don’t Underestimate the Democrats” – It’s important to note that Democrats have a legitimate shot at winning the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones has an impressive resume and prosecuted the Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph. Yes, Alabama is among the reddest of red states. But if Democrats can forge a coalition of their own voters, combined with independents and even some Republicans who don’t like Moore, Jones could win. The latest poll from Strategy Research has Moore leading by two points, but the latest Gravis Poll has Jones up by five points. This race is a toss-up!

What are your thoughts on the U.S. Senate race in Alabama? Just leave your insights by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, with outlying viewership in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.


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