The most important background detail in the Senate candidacy of Roy Moore is that he was twice elected to head Alabama’s Supreme Court — and twice removed from the post.
The first time, he defied a federal court order over his placement of a Ten Commandments monument in public space. The second time, he directed judges to enforce a state ban on same-sex marriage after it was deemed unconstitutional.
So having openly placed his religious faith over faithful execution of law, Moore won the Republican primary to succeed Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate.
Alabamians long have had ample chance to know just who Moore is and what he does, and the GOP voted for him. So why would charges of sexual misconduct long after the fact, which he disputes, persuade Moore to quit the race?
So far they have not.
But more comes into play than an incremental shrinkage of GOP clout in the Senate that would result should Moore lose to Democrat Doug Jones in his state’s special election Dec. 12.
Moore has declared war on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Moore’s backer Steve Bannon has pretty much done the same. Bannon still calls himself President Donald Trump’s “wing man”; Trump hasn’t disputed that.
Clearly, a not-so-civil war is underway inside the Republican Party between the Trump-Bannon front and McConnell’s Senate loyalists. The fight extends to other Senate seats.
McConnell and his Senate caucus want Moore out of the way because he is a declared enemy of theirs. So they’ve made noise about refusing to seat him if elected, about a write-in campaign from Sessions, about a criminal investigation if Moore takes office, and so on.
But with Bannon working to elect Moore as well as other Trump-loyalists in other states, Trump gets to stay aloof and see which way the wind blows.
The winds blew Moore’s way Sept. 26 when he beat Sen. Luther Strange, whom McConnell had supported. Trump had nominally backed Strange too, all the while making clear he’d support Moore for Senate if the time came. The president quickly endorsed Moore.
Now, as Moore faces lurid accusations from women who were teenagers when they encountered him, Trump leaves him twisting. Fox network commentator Sean Hannity, who comes as close as anyone in the news media to acting as Trump’s unofficial trigger man, told viewers Tuesday night the judge has “24 hours” to explain his situation.
“You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies,” Hannity said. “You must remove any doubt. If he can’t do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of this race.”
Trump “wing man” Bannon meanwhile has blasted the sexual allegations as nothing more than a political attack even as McConnell and other top Republicans deem them believable.
The president has said Moore should leave the race — if the allegations are true. How long Trump chooses to keep that middling stance was anyone’s guess as of midday Wednesday.
In the long term, if McConnell survives Bannon’s efforts to destroy him, at least Trump can use the senator as a foil, to blame him for whatever legislation he fails to enact.