Republicans have a tendency toward shooting themselves in the foot and this week was no exception. With their abrupt about-face on accused sexual harassers John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), the Democrats have captured the moral high on the issue of sexual misbehavior.
For a while it seemed as though both parties would look equally hypocritical on the issue of sexual misdeeds. For weeks, the lists of officials in both parties who were credibly named by numerous accusers grew longer and longer while partisans promptly excused their allies and condemned their enemies.
The Democrat reversal could not have come at a more inopportune time for Republicans. After tepid support for Roy Moore for several weeks, President Trump endorsed Moore on Monday with a charge to the accused child molester to “Go get 'em, Roy!” The same day Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had previously called on Moore to drop out of the race, said, “ It'll be up to the people of Alabama to make this decision” and dismissed the possibility that the Senate would refuse to seat Moore if we wins. The Republican National Committee, which had previously severed ties with Moore suddenly made a contribution of $170,000 to Moore’s financially strapped campaign.
Perhaps the Democrats were waiting on the Republicans to go all-in on Moore to offer up Conyers and Franken as sacrificial lambs. Perhaps the timing was coincidental due to new revelations about Conyers and Franken. In any case, the events of the week could not have been better timed for Democrats.
Moore, who has said that he didn’t “generally” date teenage girls when he was in his 30s, seems to retain a slight lead in polling for the Alabama Senate race. This in spite of contradictory statements about the sexual assault allegations and whether he dated his wife while she was still married to her first husband as well as other scandals such as financial improprieties at his charity and his advancement of conspiracy theories.
It was a classic bait and switch. Republicans took the bait and supported Roy Moore and the Democrats promptly switched to a hardline on sexual misconduct. The result will be that for the remainder of the Alabama campaign, and though the 2018 elections if Moore wins, Democrats will batter Republicans about the head with charges that the party, which claims to be the party of Christian principles and family values, fully supported a candidate who is credibly accused of being a sexual predator of teenage girls.
What’s worse is that the Democrats will be absolutely right. In the 2018 elections, Republicans will already be defending a do-nothing Congress and an erratic and unpopular president. Now, they must justify their support for Roy Moore as well.
The GOP has faced a similar conundrum in the past. In 1991, David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Louisiana. In an election that presaged this decade’s races to the bottom, Duke’s opponent was Edwin Edwards, a Democrat who had been tried twice on charges of mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and bribery. Edwards was so disliked by Louisiana Republicans that the outgoing governor, Buddy Roemer, coined the slogan, “Anyone but Edwards.”
That year, unlike recent history, Republicans did not embrace a flawed candidate, claiming that the opposition was worse. Instead, Republicans did the unthinkable. Pushing their partisan tendencies aside, the Louisiana GOP endorsed Democrat Edwards under the slogan, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.”
The question for today’s Republicans is, “What is important?”