Republican embrace of Roy Moore reveals moral rot at the GOP's core

Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are quitting the circus, but most prominent Republicans are OK with a right-wing theocrat

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published October 25, 2017 4:59AM (EDT)

Roy Moore (Getty/Scott Olson)
Roy Moore (Getty/Scott Olson)

If the Republican Party’s craven rally around a reality-TV host who humiliated nearly every GOP veteran on his rise to the White House wasn’t enough to convince you that the once stodgy party has exchanged its last shreds of principle for power, then the recent Republican rush to endorse radical right-wing Senate candidate Roy Moore should serve as the definitive prove.

Recent headlines have centered on the war of words between a few “moderate” Republican senators and President Donald Trump. The retirements of Republicans like Tennessee’s Bob Corker and Arizona’s Jeff Flake at a time when someone like Moore is ascendant reveals the real rot at the core of the GOP.  

Republicans are the party of Trump now. Moore, who is the GOP nominee for the Senate seat abandoned by Jeff Sessions in Alabama -- after defeating appointed incumbent Luther Strange in the recent Republican primary -- is in some ways a parallel figure to Trump, who won the state in 2016 by 28 points.

Ousted twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for openly defying the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, Moore defeated Strange, the Mitch McConnell-approved establishment candidate, by running as a Trump-like outsider. His long record of political extremism includes suggesting that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, advocating making homosexuality illegal and refusing to rule out the idea that LGBT people who transgress against his idea of God's law should face the death penalty.

“Just because it’s done behind closed doors, it can still be prohibited by state law,” Moore argued in 2005.

Despite Moore’s flagrant disrespect for the co-equal judicial branch, several supposed “constitutional conservatives” have exhibited a stunning display of hypocrisy and abandonment of principles to support him. Among Republican senators, only Flake was willing to publicly say he was “troubled” by Moore’s record -- shortly before he announced his own retirement from politics on Tuesday. Many of Flake's Senate colleagues, however, have already endorsed Moore and agreed to raise money for his campaign. 

Consider the Senate’s other Mormon Republican besides Flake, Mike Lee of Utah. Ignoring the ugly tone that has defined Moore’s career -- the same divisive tone Flake cited in his retirement remarks, and the one that serves as the bellwether of Trumpism -- Lee cited Moore’s fundamentalist conservatism when he became one of the first Republicans to go public with his endorsement.

"Judge Moore's tested reputation of integrity is exactly what we need in Washington D.C. in order to pass conservative legislation and protect the liberty of all Americans," Lee wrote in a statement.

Lee’s closest ideological allies in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both bizarrely cited Moore’s defense of the Constitution in their endorsements.  

“Judge Moore has a lifelong passion for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and he has the courage of his convictions,” Cruz wrote on Tuesday. He also sent out a fundraising email for Moore.

“We need more people in Washington, D.C., that will stand on principle and defend the Constitution,” Paul argued. “Roy Moore has spent a lifetime defending and standing up for the Constitution while fighting for the people of Alabama.”

Moore has defended the Constitution so thoroughly that he willfully defied multiple court orders based on his allegiance to God. When did conservatives stop supporting law and order and become supporters of religious radicalism?

Conservatives -- whatever that word may signify today -- have made Moore and what he stands for acceptable in their movement, perhaps even central.

For all the years the Republican Party's civil war has raged on, it has never actually been waged on the grounds of ideology. The increasingly bitter divide has been almost entirely about tone and tactics, not legislative direction. Despite his vocal displeasure with Donald Trump’s style and conduct, Jeff Flake voted with the White House 91 percent of the time this year.

Hours after it was revealed on Monday that Moore argued in 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage was worse than the Court's 1857 decision upholding slavery, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced a joint fundraising agreement with his campaign and the Alabama Republican Party.


As Republicans, said Mayor Tommy Battle of Huntsville, Alabama to a local reporter, "We back the Republican ticket, and you will see all the Republicans backing Roy Moore.” Former Arkansas governor and two-time failed Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (the father of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders) has also endorsed Moore.

Like other religious radicals before him -- recall Rep. Michele Bachmann and failed Senate candidate Todd Akin? -- Moore is hardly the conservative that Republicans who claim to respect the Constitution insist he is. But he’ll certainly get the job done. Moore is the natural result of Republicans’ cynical power play, which is largely aimed at trying to keep Democrats out of office long enough to change the laws on abortion and get the wealthy a tax cut. A Republican vote in Washington is a Republican vote in Washington, no matter how radical or vicious or decadent its motives may be. 

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Conservatism Conservatives Gop Gop Senate Mike Lee Rand Paul Republicans Roy Moore Ted Cruz