Just as the Republican political elite was coming to terms with President Donald Trump (a process which he disturbed after agreeing to make two major deals with Democratic lawmakers), the party is bracing for an entirely new round of controversy that is likely to ensue if Roy Moore, a disgraced former court judge, manages to win the Alabama GOP's Senate nomination.
Moore is the kind of far-right figure who, prior to Trump's rise, was relegated to the fringe of Republican politics. Not so long ago, GOP operatives and politicians were happy to take money from people who believe that Christians should have more religious freedoms than everyone else, but they didn't want them strutting their stuff as party representatives. In his desperate bid to wrest Religious Right voters away from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries, Trump offered them much more than a chance to throw away their money and staff campaigns.
Should he win the primary and the general election, Senator Moore is likely to prove himself much more of a firebrand than Cruz was after he entered the Senate in 2013 and began causing problems for the GOP's leader in the chamber, Mitch McConnell.
“It’s highly likely that he could be disruptive. We’re talking about somebody who has been removed from the bench twice," an anonymous Republican senator told Politico.
The shy politician was referring to the fact that Moore was expelled from office in 2004 for refusing to remove a large Ten Commandments monument he had erected outside the court's chambers. After being elected a second time to the court, Moore was suspended in 2016 after he ordered lower-level magistrate judges to refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies following the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage. Moore also has more than a few connections to neo-Confederate groups.
Moore has not been shy about his intention to fight with Washington Republicans.
"Judge Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate means the END of Mitch McConnell's reign as Majority Leader," he wrote in a campaign email message.
That email also accused party leaders of "dirty tricks" by encouraging Democrats to vote in the initial primary vote, which was held Aug. 15. Moore won that election with 39 percent of the vote, but because he did not win a majority, he is facing a Sept. 26 run-off with Luther Strange, the interim Senator who is serving the remainder of the term for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General.
Washington Republicans have made it clear that they believe a Moore victory could lead to the GOP losing the general election (to be held Dec. 12) to Democratic nominee Doug Jones.
"I don't know if it’s possible for a Republican to lose the state of Alabama, but if it is, it's with a candidate like Roy Moore," McConnell's former chief of staff Josh Holmes told Fox News.
While relations between Trump and the congressional GOP are shakier than ever, over the weekend Trump agreed to appear at a campaign rally for Strange. On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence's staff told Politico that he would also be appearing at a rally next Monday, the day before the run-off. The Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee led by McConnell allies, has also been spending millions of dollars on television ads against the expelled judge.
Moore's dark warning about "dirty tricks" alludes to an earlier episode in which Republican elites encouraged Democrats to vote in a 2014 run-off election in Mississippi which featured incumbent Sen. Thad Cocharan against Chris McDaniel, a former radio host with a history of controversial statements, including speaking to a neo-Confederate organization.
The GOP establishment's efforts to torpedo McDaniel greatly increased the hatred that many conservative activists already harbored for McConnell. Forcing Moore into the Senate (even if they view him as crazy) is viewed by many as a perfect way of getting even.
Almost certainly, national Republican leaders will encourage Democratic voters to participate in the open run-off election so as to avoid being shackled to a Moore Senate nomination.
One can be almost as certain that the GOP elite will not revise their long-term strategy of encouraging extremism that produced their current situation. That's apparent in this special election race since the Senate Leadership Fund has primarily been focusing its attacks on Moore as being too liberal by not supporting Trump enough.
The PAC is currently running an ad in the state claiming that "career politician Roy Moore" opposes Trump's signature goal of building a wall on the Mexican border. Unmentioned by the narrator is Moore's preferred alternative: He wants to militarize the whole thing.
As Moore and his Christian soldiers march forward at the head of the polls, Chris McDaniel is already talking about running in 2018 to oppose Mississippi's other Senator, Roger Wicker. He's standing up for the Confederate flag again as well.
If Moore maintains his polling lead to the finish line, you can expect McDaniel and a host of others to try and follow suit.