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Defending the indefensible

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a Mid-Alabama Republican Club's Veterans Day event on Saturday. Credit: Getty Images / Wes Frazer

It started with the powerful man playing with her red hair at the restaurant where Beverly Young Nelson worked. She was 15. At 16, she said, the man offered her a ride home and then parked next to a dark trash bin, and groped her chest and forced her head to his crotch.

Nelson said that man is Roy Moore, the U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama. And Nelson, now in her 50s, became his fifth accuser on Monday, when, in a Manhattan hotel, she delivered a sobbing tale of sexual assault. The Washington Post had earlier published accounts of four other women who say Moore pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers — including a 14-year-old — and he was in his 30s.

The special election to fill the Alabama Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions became attorney general is Dec. 12. But the nation is now a witness to the sordid saga and the political fissures it reveals.

Moore was a travesty from the beginning, twice effectively removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, once for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments that he had commissioned for the courthouse. His intolerance runs deep, having suggested homosexuality be made illegal, and that Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman, should not be allowed to serve. He blames the 9/11 attack on atheists.

Still, he was the toast of Alabama and supported by President Donald Trump before the Post’s exhaustively reported investigation of teenagers approached by Moore 40 years ago, including accounts of deviancy like Moore fondling that 14-year-old.

America could have escaped this demoralizing episode had a bipartisan consensus quickly formed that Moore must halt his candidacy. Instead, many Republican leaders waffled about what Moore should do “if” the accusations were true. The calls did mount on Monday for Moore to step down, headlined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Then to convince the GOP nominee to quit, the chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee said that Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins because he does not meet ethical and moral requirements, a move last used in 1862.

Moore’s Democratic opponent is Doug Jones, who as U.S. attorney for Alabama prosecuted two Klan members responsible for the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham that killed four black girls. As Jones started to rise in the polls this weekend, Republicans plotted to delay the election with the intent to allow Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill Sessions’ seat, to stick around long enough to vote on the GOP tax bill. That’s outrageous. We don’t cancel elections in this country, not even after 9/11 when a national emergency could reasonably have been declared.

The Senate’s ethics committee should investigate the allegations. Or, as Nelson’s lawyer suggested Monday, that body’s judiciary committee could hold hearings and subpoena Moore. Neither of those are likely to happen, as we are already seeing the new Republican base dig in and ridiculously make Moore a martyr in our partisan culture wars. What we have here is moral rot. That is one thing we, regardless of party or camp in the culture wars, should all be able to agree on.