In November, several local Alabama papers took a righteous stance on Roy Moore, asking readers in the red state to reject the GOP senate candidate after accusations surfaced that he had sexually assaulted teenage girls. One eastern Alabama publication, the Opelika-Auburn News, agreed that Moore should step down, though not for the reasons you might think. Instead of acknowledging the allegations against Moore, the paper’s editorial, published in November, asked Moore to step down because his candidacy “unites opposing political voices during an era of rigid political divide.”
Could the Republican brand be so wounded at the moment that it is in fact hurting their own senate candidate, creating another political war within the party? According to the paper, whose readership is in Lee County (named after General Robert E. Lee), yes.
“His election would seriously harm the Republican Party’s image, which already is deeply bruised. His run has cast such a dark shadow over the real needs facing the state and nation that few can detail anything about his political platform beyond self-proclaimed moral values,” the editorial says.
When Troy Turner, a top editor at the publication, was asked by Washington Post reporter Margaret Sullivan about his competitors’ endorsements for Doug Jones in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against Moore, Turner said he "would have bullet holes in my window” if he endorsed Jones.
No bullets were shot at his window after the paper’s November editorial, but Turner went on to explain that his 11-person staff is in fact conflicted about Moore’s candidacy. Indeed, not everyone believes the allegations, but they do believe he should step down for the sake of getting a Republican into the Senate.
Even though the paper has been cautious about not supporting Moore (while not supporting Jones either), Republican support for Moore at the national level appears to be strong. Earlier today, Roy Moore tweeted that he had received full support from President Donald Trump.
Trump had previously tweeted the importance of Moore’s victory for the sake of gaining another Republican to vote yes on his tax cuts:
Besides numerous sexual assault allegations, Moore’s fitness for office seems questionable. As a judge for the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was twice suspended from the bench for refusing to comply with the law.
Yet despite calls from both sides of the aisle for him to drop out of the Dec. 12 special election, Moore thus far has refused. Perhaps he is influenced by the hemming and hawing within the Republican Party, which seems split over whether he should resign from the race; or, perhaps he is buoyed by polls that show him leading his Democratic rival Doug Jones. According to a new CBS/YouGov poll published over the weekend, Moore leads Jones by 6 percent. The same poll stated that 71 percent of Alabama Republicans polled believe that allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore are completely false.
Meanwhile, Moore’s opponent Doug Jones has primarily focused his campaign on television attack ads smearing Moore. While Jones is winning the game of airwaves in Alabama, his plan may backfire; painting himself as the anti-Moore candidate, rather than running on a platform in his own right, calls to mind Hillary Clinton’s doomed 2016 strategy, when some believe she ran as an anti-Trump candidate rather than for anything specific.
Despite Trump’s outright denial of the accusations against Moore, some Republicans have gone against the president’s opinion, including Sen. Jeff Flake, R.-Ariz., who said that “for Republicans to support Roy Moore over Doug Jones is political tribalism at its worst.... We shouldn’t succumb to it.”
As it stands, the special election in Alabama may devolve into a referendum over party loyalty rather than a debate over ethics and sexual harassment.